North Okanagan orchardists

North Okanagan orchardists

North Okanagan farmers, orchardists hope to lobby minister

Demands are growing for B.C.’s new agriculture minister to visit the North Okanagan.

Demands are growing for B.C.’s new agriculture minister to visit the North Okanagan.

Advocates for both meat and fruit producers insist that Pat Pimm must meet with them so he fully understands the challenges facing the sectors.

“We need to get together with him and we want some clarification on where they are headed with regulations,” said Rick Fairbairn, a rancher and Regional District of North Okanagan vice-chairman.

Rules in 2007 brought farm gate sales and meat processing to a halt and that forced hundreds of processors out of business locally. In February, the government announced five class E slaughtering licences as part of a two-year pilot program in the region.

“It didn’t address the concerns of the community,” said Fairbairn, adding that most farmers still can’t get their meat processed.

“We need to support the community in light of the decreasing number of producers, especially with beef cattle. It’s creating economic hardships.”

Fairbairn believes the regulations are being applied based on political reasons.

“The regulations are not a healthy and safety issue or 10 parts of B.C. would not have exempt status. The North Okanagan should be exempt,” he said.

With Pimm taking over from Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, the B.C. Fruit Growers Association has to develop a new relationship within government.

“We want to give a tour of the Okanagan so he knows our industry,” said Jeet Dukhia, BCFGA president and a Vernon orchardist.

Dukhia added that any discussions will include the need for the ministry to fund the replanting of fruit trees to keep the sector viable.

While the provincial government is focused on natural gas resource development, Dukhia insists Victoria must continue to make agriculture a priority because of its importance to B.C.’s economy.

“We want to know what their agricultural platform is and especially for the tree fruit sector,” he said.

“We (B.C.) have the lowest agricultural budget in the country. We need a replant program on a continuing basis.”

Duhkia also points out that orchardists are frustrated with B.C.’s revolving door of agriculture ministers.

“We need continuity. We get a new minister and train him and then they are gone in a year. It’s a big concern.”

Pimm is the seventh person in the portfolio since June 2008.