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B.C. fruit growers worry about the future


February 3, 2010
By The Canadian Press

Topics

February
1, 2010, Kelowna, BC – A sense of deep pessimism hangs over the Okanagan’s
troubled fruit industry, B.C. Agriculture and Lands Minister Steve Thomson
heard Saturday in Kelowna.



February
1, 2010, Kelowna, BC – A sense of deep pessimism hangs over the Okanagan’s
troubled fruit industry, B.C. Agriculture and Lands Minister Steve Thomson
heard Saturday in Kelowna.

Those
attending the 121st B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association’s annual convention told
Thomson low apple prices have many orchardists wondering if they’ll be able to
continue farming.

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“Our
dreams are turning into nightmares,” Kelowna grower Tarsem Goraya said.

“This
is an industry in crisis,” Fred Steele, another Kelowna grower, said. “Soon,
we’ll be on life support, and once we’re dead, it really won’t matter.”

Prices
for many apple varieties have fallen below the cost of production, continuing a
sharp two-year drop in farm receipts.

“We’re
looking for some help here,” said Vernon grower Jeet Dukhia, who complained the
budget of the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands was one of the lowest of
any such agency in Canada.

For
his part, Thomson acknowledge the ministry’s budget had been scaled back, along
with those of many other government departments, as government revenues decline
during the recession.

The
provincial government is trying to preserve spending on core programs such as
health, education and social services, in part by transferring money from other
departments, Thomson said.

“I
know that has impacted our budget,” he said. “You’ll hear the same comment from
other ministers.”

Some
growers questioned the government’s spending on the Winter Olympics, but
Thomson said the Games would provide an opportunity to “celebrate
and recognize” the province’s agricultural sector.

Still,
he said it would be “short-sighted and naïve” for government not to acknowledge
the serious challenges confronting all aspects of the agricultural economy.

A
new version of the long-dormant “Buy B.C.” marketing program, which encouraged
consumers to purchase produce grown in the province, could soon be revived,
Thomson suggested.

“It’s
my goal – one of our priorities within the ministry – to try to get a program
back in place that achieves that goal,” he said.

A
new version of the program might focus on creating consumer awareness of and
support for specific growing regions, such as the Okanagan and Vancouver
Island, Thomson said. That approach could dovetail with the preference of a
growing number of people to buy food that is produced from nearby locations,
rather than shipped over great distances.

“That
(preference) is clearly not just a fad,” Thomson said. “It’s something that can
position us for the future.”

Joe
Sardinha will stay at the helm of the association for the sixth straight year.
The Summerland orchardist was returned to the president’s position by
acclamation during the convention.


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