B.C. orchards and vineyards to get $70M to replant after disastrous weather

B.C. orchards and vineyards to get $70M to replant after disastrous weather
B.C. Premier David Eby speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on Jan. 9, 2024. The British Columbia government says hard-hit fruit farmers and grape growers will get an extra $70 million in supports to replant and strengthen orchards and vineyards after two years of weather-related disasters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

Farmers in British Columbia will get an extra $70 million to replant and strengthen fruit orchards and vineyards after two years of weather-related disasters, says Premier David Eby.

The commitment comes after a devastating cold snap in January that is feared to have wiped out almost the entire 2024 wine vintage in B.C., and slashed harvest forecasts for stone fruit by 90 per cent.

The funding will boost the province’s existing $15 million Perennial Crop Renewal Program, launched last spring to help more than 200 farmers replace diseased, deceased and unproductive plants, Eby said.

Eby, who announced the funding in a virtual address to a wine industry conference in Penticton on Wednesday, said the new funding would help about 1,000 more growers revitalize their farms.

“Hopefully, this support enables you to purchase varietals that will be able to survive the kind of extreme temperature swings that we’ve seen and also respond to changing consumer tastes at the same time, so we can turn a crisis into an opportunity for the whole province,” he said.

B.C.’s wine grape growers said the January chill that sent temperatures in Kelowna plunging to -27 C destroyed up to 99 per cent of the province’s harvest, a devastating blow that followed a previous crippling deep freeze in 2022 and wildfire smoke damage in 2021.

Okanagan fruit growers said the January cold, which followed an unusually mild start to winter in which trees never entered full dormancy, inflicted massive losses on peaches, plums, apricots and other stone fruit.

“I just wanted to be here to say, we’ve got your back,” Eby said. “We want your success. Your success is our success. It’s our province’s success and our pride.”

A B.C. wine industry representative said in a statement that over the past several years wine growers have faced a heat dome, wildfire smoke and destructive cold.

“The ongoing climate change effects, highlighted by recent freeze events on B.C. farmers, is real and directly impacts those individuals and families that make up our industry,” said Miles Prodan, Wine Growers B.C. president.

Eby said the government would also establish a B.C. wine grape sector task force to develop plans to help producers stay profitable and resilient as they face climate change.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2024.

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