Growers abandoned?  


Don Plant, The Daily Courier, 2011-05-17 

The B.C. government has turned its back on Okanagan fruit growers and failed to provide British Columbians with enough domestic food, the province‘s agriculture critic said in Kelowna.

Lana Popham said the government is focusing too much on selling B.C. food to other countries and doing too little to stimulate local markets. In the Okanagan, fruit growers are suffering while four million British Columbians rely increasingly on imported food, she said.

"We‘ve abandoned agriculture in B.C.," Popham said Monday. "We have the lowest support for agriculture of any province in Canada. The government doesn‘t think it‘s a priority. They believe agriculture here is a cost and not an investment." 
Popham joined Adrian Dix on his first swing through the Valley since he won his party‘s leadership last month. Dix repeated the agriculture policies he touted during his campaign to replace outgoing Carole James - provide grants to fruit growers, feed B.C. fruit to hospital patients and revive the Buy BC marketing program.

"There‘s so much at stake. This is a critical issue for the economy of this region and we can‘t afford any more delay," he said. "I‘m challenging the government to act right now."

The cost of growing apples last year outstripped what growers earned - an average of 22 cents a pound compared to 14.5 cents a pound. After three years of poor returns, hundreds of growers are in debt. Banks are forcing some to sell their properties and many can‘t afford to buy what they need to harvest a crop this season.

Their representatives with the B.C. Fruit Growers Association have asked the government for $7.5 million worth of grants to cover equipment, supplies and credit to grow a crop this year. Agriculture Minister Don McRae has yet to give an answer. 
"Growers need assistance in purchasing inputs," said BCFGA President Joe Sardinha. "It‘s critical growers have the ability to purchase fertilizers, sprays, nutrient sprays, and have the means to afford production insurance."

The proposed program is too small to be deemed a subsidy, which can trigger countervailing duties at the U.S. border in retaliation, Sardinha said. He thanked Dix for taking up the growers‘ cause, but added he‘s working with all parties to acquire a lifeline.

Growers and the NDP support contracts that would deliver Okanagan apples to Valley hospitals and other health regions in the province to boost their sales. Patients would benefit from healthier food; procurement contracts would still align with trade agreements as long as it‘s a local food service, said Popham. 

Restoring Buy BC, which ended in 2001, would encourage British Columbians to buy locally grown food. Growers would partner with restaurants and add value to their fruit, she said. 

"I hope the government‘s listening . . . Otherwise we won‘t have growers any more."

The B.C. government has said the deficit is too high, most revenues are going toward health and education, and there‘s no extra money. The consequences of doing nothing would damage a fruit industry that provides thousands of jobs and is a linchpin of the Okanagan‘s economy, said Dix.

Because Premier Christy Clark is vague on when the next election will be, the party is campaigning as if it will happen soon, Dix said. 

"We encourage the government to take action now. It can‘t wait until 2013," he said. "Both parties should . . . support the package. . . I don‘t care who gets the credit."