Ag budget boost doesn’t mean much Up Front
By Bryden Winsby A
new year, another new agriculture minister. And a new provincial budget that the
oddsmakers say won't stand the test of time, even if the ag minister manages to survive May's provincial election. Norm Letnick, who succeeded Don McRae last September, holds the very safe Kelowna-Lake Country seat for the BC Liberals in the legislature. Barring a huge upset by New Democrat Mike Nuyens or BC Conservative Graeme James, Letnick will continue to represent the riding, which he won in 2009 with 52 percent of the vote against four other candidates.
However, unless Liberal popularity with the electorate takes a big jump during the next few weeks, he won't have a cabinet portfolio. And we'll be left to wonder whether the provincial budget introduced in mid-February was worth all the effort that went into preparing it.
Polls indicate a big majority of British Columbians don't believe the Liberals can deliver on their pledge to pull the province’s books out of the red, a cornerstone of the budget tabled by finance minister Mike de Jong. For years, farmers have lamented the fact B.C. government spending on agriculture lags badly behind the rest of the country. The latest budget calls for a 20 percent increase from last year, to a total of $79.3 million. Highlights include nearly $1 million more for the Agricultural Land Commission to strengthen its farmland preservation activities, $6.5 million for the carbon tax rebate program and $5.6 million for a meat inspection program. Letnick has touted the increased funding as a big plus for the government’s Agrifoods Strategy,’ described as “a roadmap to the sector becoming a $14 billion-a-year industry by 2017.”
Skepticism still abounds, though, and the ag budget was greeted with little enthusiasm by the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association. Letnick had announced at January's BCFGA annual gathering in Penticton that a major change to the $2 million orchard replant program will eliminate the stipulation that owners must grow the same type of fruit in order to be eligible for subsidies.
However, in a post- budget statement, association president Jeet Dukhia said the BCFGA had been hoping for more than that. It said studies have shown that the tree fruit industry needs an ongoing replant
program and assistance
with environmental improvements on farms. “We were hoping to get a positive future direction on these programs, but the budget contained no strategic, competitive help for tree fruit growers,” said Dukhia.
“We need continuity of replant in our industry. When we plan, orchardists look forward 15 or 20 years. The disruption of not having a long-term replant program is harming our industry.” He points out that the replant program is currently funded for two years, but was disrupted in 2012 as no program was offered then.
Environment-related measures, such as help with integrated pest management, deer fencing and septic systems for worker sanitary facilities have been proposed by the BCFGA “with the expectation that the government was interested in protecting and enhancing the
environment and helping us to meet the competition. We were disappointed,” said Dukhia.
Whether the NDP’s approach would be any less disappointing is anyone’s guess at this point. Its ability to juggle needs and wants with available revenues is mostly a matter of rhetoric.
For Dukhia and his association, the fight goes on, regardless of who’s in charge in Victoria. Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find a recap of the BCFGA’s annual meeting, along with some uplifting pieces on both the tree fruit and wine industries. A Washington State operation is making great strides with a troubled B.C.-bred apple variety, cherry growers are taking steps toward a more organized approach to production and marketing issues and a Cawston winery relies on the sun for more than growing grapes. Our resident gurus Peter Waterman and Gary Strachan discuss apple quality decision-making and frost damage prevention respectively.
And there’s a lot more. Read on!
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British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2011
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