As an Okanagan MLA, Letnick
notes it took a lot of arm-twisting to get cabinet to approve an expenditure of $2 million for another orchard replant program, so he hopes the industry will use it to move out of growing varieties that aren’t profitable. A panel made up of industry and
government representatives is being set up to look at issues in B.C. that are hindering the agri-food sector from being competitive, with a goal of expanding markets for our products, he said. “We need to innovate to grow our
markets and ensure we comply with our customers' needs. It’s important we look at new models and varieties and a range of maturity dates.” As well, he noted the Okanagan
Tree Fruit Co-operative needs a more modern facility to reduce its costs. Farmers should cull fruit in the
orchard to help reduce the co-op’s costs, he added. The co-op is at an important
juncture, with growers going independent and taking the critical mass away from the main co- operative. That weakens the co-op. “Government can’t force people to
belong and growers have asked me to find the funds to engage a mediator. “I’m reaching out to the co-op to
see if there’s interest. If so, I’ll go back to staff to see if we can find some money for it.”
At September’s meeting of
provincial agriculture ministers and federal minister Gerry Ritz, Letnick said he talked with Ritz about trade barriers to exporting cherries to China, and Ritz said Ottawa is working hard to open up that market. On the question of moving B.C.
wines across provincial borders, Letnick said he has had good discussions with both the Alberta and Ontario agriculture ministers, and they were optimistic their borders would be opened up. He said he’s committed to
preventing any further budget cutbacks in the agriculture ministry, although he realizes the next budget must be a ‘hold-the-line’ budget. Letnick said he loves being minister
of agriculture and hopes to continue in the post for some time to come. Since being named to the post in
early September, he said he’s been touring the province meeting with farmers and processors and learning about the agriculture sector in B.C. He noted there are 300 commodities in this province, which makes it both interesting and challenging.
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