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The provincial government of British Columbia, Canada, has committed $8.4 million for a seven-year apple, sweet cherry, and soft fruit replant program designed to help rejuvenate the industries by removing older, low-value varieties and replacing them with newer, high-quality ones.

Beginning April 1, and going through to the 2021 season, growers will be able to apply for the new program, which could result in more than 1,500 acres of orchards being replanted. The program extends the existing replant program. In 2012, the province provided $2 million to fund a three-year replant program, resulting in 528 acres being replanted.

In a study of the industry completed in September of 2012 by industry analysts at Globalwise Inc. and Belrose Inc., the writers called the then-just-approved replant program “a step in the right direction,” but added that “the funds currently allocated will not be sufficient to complete the transformation of the industry.”

Apple plantings in the province fell from 13,500 acres in 2000 to 8,581 in 2012, according to the study, as growers shifted away from apples to blueberries, wine grapes, and sweet cherries. Blueberries nearly tripled to 17,625 acres in that period, grapes grew 56 percent to 8,606 acres, and sweet cherries nearly doubled to 3,233 acres.

Apple growers had been shifting from older varieties to Ambrosia and Gala, primarily, but overall, apple acreage was declining.

“Growers are genuinely excited about the announcement as the government set a goal of a sustainable, long-term replant program, and today this promise is delivered,” said BC Fruit Growers’ Association president Fred Steele. He said the program would kickstart the rebuilding effort and give a much-needed boost to the industry.

Government support for orchard renewal programs is not uncommon in Canada, and certainly not in British Columbia. A replant program was put in place in British Columbia in 1991, and over the next 15 years about 60 percent of the province’s tree fruit acreage was modernized.

In Nova Scotia in May of 2014, an Apple Industry Growth and Efficiency Program was announced that will result in about 455 acres of old orchards, about 10 percent of the total, being replaced with newer varieties of apples. The industry planned to invest $6.9 million in the plan, with about $2.2 million coming from the provincial government.

This new initiative is modeled after the earlier successful Honeycrisp Orchard Renewal Program.

The province of Quebec has also sponsored apple replant programs in the past.

Application materials and criteria for the new B.C. program will soon be available on the BC Fruit Growers’ Association website, www.bcfga.com. •