B.C.’s 2021 budget is trending in the right direction to support farmers, says the BC Fruit Growers’ Association. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

B.C.’s 2021 budget is trending in the right direction to support farmers, says the BC Fruit Growers’ Association. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

B.C. budget receives thumbs up from Okanagan fruit growers

BCFGA general manager said budgetary investments put farming industry on a good trajectory for recovery

The BC Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) is glad to see support for local farmers in the 2021 provincial budget.

Although the B.C. government is projecting a $9.7-billion deficit for this year, the provincial Agriculture Ministry will receive a $4.4-million increase to its core budget, which now sits close to $100 million.

BCFGA general manager Glen Lucas said the investment is a step in the right direction.

“It’s something that we’ve been working to, to change the direction. There were years where the agriculture budget went down,” said Lucas.

“Certainly, we’ve seen it stabilize and increase slightly here. That’s welcomed news.”

The lift will help to expand work on the Buy BC, Feed BC and Grow BC programs, with each initiative receiving $3.41 million over the next three years, totalling $10 million.

The Buy BC program promotes and markets a wide variety of local agriculture, food and beverage products, while the Feed BC initiative focuses on increasing the use of locally grown and processed foods in hospitals, schools, and other government facilities. Grow BC is designed to help young farmers access land, while also supporting fruit and nut growers and processors to expand local food production.

Around $35 million of the ag ministry budget will go towards supporting the centralized quarantine program for foreign workers arriving in the summer for the cherry-picking season.

“There’s some expenditure that’s already been made, not through the ministry of agriculture, but through a COVID-19 recovery fund, that has really helped out the free fruit sector and more generally the horticulture sector,” said Lucas.

“We get over 7,000 workers a year. They get quarantined in Richmond. That really helps out our sector and keeps the workers safe.”

After experiencing two years of challenges brought on by intense periods of rain and frost, he said that he expects the cherry sector to bounce back this year.

“There have been impacts there from those two tough years, but I think the cherry sector looks towards these programs and hopefully some of them enhance access to foreign markets and to develop new crop protection techniques and so on,” he said.

He noted the apple sector is also on a downturn, as work is being done with the government to develop a tree-fruit stabilization initiative.

“We are looking for more programs and help for that sector. We hope that there’s room within the agriculture budget to help out,” he said.

An additional $7 million from last year’s budget will go towards supporting the development of food hubs, farm innovation and food processing. $7.5 million is being allocated to agri-tech initiatives by the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation.

“From an overall perspective, it’s a good trend and trajectory for the agriculture budget,” said Lucas.

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“We’re looking forward to that continuing in the future.”

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