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B.C. fruit farmers ask Ottawa for help


February 3, 2010
By The Canadian Press

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February 1, 2010,
Kelowna, BC – Cash-strapped fruit farmers in the B.C. Interior need an
emergency payment from the government to help them weather an acute financial
crisis, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz heard Friday in Kelowna.



February 1, 2010,
Kelowna, BC – Cash-strapped fruit farmers in the B.C. Interior need an
emergency payment from the government to help them weather an acute financial
crisis, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz heard Friday in Kelowna.

Payments for apple and
cherry crops have dropped significantly in the past two years, and many farmers
are having trouble making ends meet, Ritz was told.

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“Our industry has
suffered greatly in the past two years … prices are disastrous,” Penny
Gambell, a Lake Country grower, told Ritz at the annual convention of the B.C.
Fruit Growers Association
.

“We need a special
payment this year.”

Ritz was sympathetic to
the growers’ plight, but said direct subsidies to growers to offset losses are
“problematic” since they usually run counter to trade agreements.

However, he promised to
“tweak and twist” existing agricultural support programs that benefit farmers
in lean years.

“We’ll do everything we
can to see if we can trigger some cash flow,” Ritz said.

Other growers called for
Ottawa to revive a program that gives farmers financial assistance to re-plant
older apple varieties with newer, more lucrative ones.

About 40 per cent of
orchards have not been replanted, Similkameen grower Rob Dawson estimated, and
he said these farms are often bought by newcomers to the fruit-growing business
who don’t appreciate the hardships they entail.

Lake Country grower Don
Claridge called on the federal government to do a better job of encouraging
Canadians to buy Canadian produce, noting the prevalence of U.S. and foreign
products on supermarket shelves.

At the convention, Ritz
announced a federal grant of $2.3 million to the Okanagan Plant Improvement
Corporation
to develop and commercialize new apple and sweet-cherry varieties.

“With this project, PICO
enters a new phase that will benefit Canadian growers and consumers alike by
enabling us to better manage the development, selection, testing, evaluation
and uptake of new, high-quality apple and cherry varieties,” said John
Kinsmill, its chief executive officer.


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