Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster meets with Agriculture Minister Don McRae during the minister’s tour of the region visiting industry stakeholders.

Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster meets with Agriculture Minister Don McRae during the minister’s tour of the region visiting industry stakeholders.

Minister optimistic on fate of farming

Behind his nursery-rhyme smiles, even old MacDonald had his share of not-so-sunny days on the farm.

Behind his nursery-rhyme smiles, even old MacDonald had his share of not-so-sunny days on the farm.

Any farmer, whether he’s growing carrots or cattle, will tell you it ain’t easy.

“Farming has always been tough in B.C.,” said Agriculture Minister Don McRae, while in Vernon Thursday touring the Interior and hearing all the issues facing farmers.

While in his day, old MacDonald only faced water and weather challenges, the challenges of today’s farmers has grown to also include depressed markets, foreign apples, export restrictions, a high Canadian dollar, skyrocketing fuel costs, outlandish land prices and farm gate sale controls.

The tree fruit industry has faced a constant struggle to better market its products against growing competition.

“It’s hard, especially in the Okanagan,” said McRae, just before meeting with some key stakeholders. “If you have a 40-acre orchard in the Okanagan you are big. If you have a 300-acre orchard in Washington, you’re average.”

While subsidies have long been sought to help farmers out, McRae isn’t convinced giving farmers a hand-out will solve their problems.

“It’s important to help farmers when its a disaster. But our (government’s) job is to make it possible to make a living. I’m not a subsidy guy. What we have to do is help them,” he said.

Aid in marketing, research and science are a few of his suggestions, along with support from society that recognizes and appreciates farm families.

McRae is confident that at least some of the struggles farmers are facing are getting easier. Particularly after taking a tour of some of Coldstream Ranch’s 6,000-acres.

“He (owner Keith Balcaen) is very clear, farming’s not easy, it’s a lot of work.

“But it’s nice to see that large ranch is still viable in the province. We want people like him to grow and thrive. He employs 70 people, so that’s dollars spent back in this community.”

A rising price of beef, mixed with efforts to expand into markets such as China (which McRae is keen to champion), have also produced some optimism in the industry.

“The predictions are it’s going to be a decent year for beef and they deserve it,” said McRae.

While internal markets can’t be solely relied on, says McRae, they are still key to supporting farm families.

With B.C.-grown stamps and farmers markets growing in demand, more people are recognizing and appreciating their local farmers.

“People are more aware of where their food is produced than ever.”

Meanwhile the imposition of farm gate sale regulations have made it harder.

Although the added bureaucracy produces a challenge, McRae stands by the controls as a necessary way to ensure consumers receive safe, high-quality products.

Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster doesn’t deny that farmers, and virtually every other industry, have had a tough go the past few years. But things are looking up.

“Everybody’s just been trying to keep their head above water the past few years and we’re just starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel,” said Foster, who still has concerns about the price of land making farming unaffordable.

McRae adds: “B.C. is well positioned to move forward.”