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There’s growing momentum behind a national replant program for orchards and vineyards in Canada.

Modeled on the successful replant program that has operated in British Columbia since 1991, the new national initiative would split the cost of replanting orchards and vineyards equally between growers, participating provinces, and Canada’s federal government.

Nova Scotia made the first move in November 2005 with a Can.$1.2 million program that could see up to 600 of Nova Scotia’s nearly 6,000 acres of orchards replanted over the next five years. (A Canadian dollar is worth about U.S. 85 cents.)

“We are hoping that if the national replant program goes through, that our program—because it is so close—will be grandfathered in and be considered as part of our grower and provincial contribution towards that national replant program,” said Dela Erith, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association.

Honeycrisp

The Nova Scotia program covers about a third of the cost of replanting orchards to Honeycrisp at a density of between 500 and 800 trees an acre.

“It grows well in Nova Scotia,” Erith said. “We have cool nights and warm days during the fall season, and this really helps to bring the color up on the apple. It gives us a sustainable competitive advantage when it comes to keeping this as a high-quality apple.”

The Nova Scotia program also funds the planting of pollinators that work well with Honeycrisp, such as Ambrosia, Cameo, and Gala, Erith said. Pollinators can represent up to 30 percent of a grower’s replant application.

Nova Scotia’s planned orchard densities are far less than those typical in western Canada, but the replant program will still represent an improvement over current densities of 300 to 400 trees an acre.

Participating growers are allowed to replant up to 10 percent of their orchards over the five years of the program. Erith said the limit gives all growers in the province a chance to benefit.

The Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association has 115 members. The Nova Scotia apple crop is worth about $13 million annually.

Erith said 35 growers have applied for replant grants for a total of 75 acres to date. She suspects applications will climb in 2007 and 2008 when growers have had time to arrange for the incorporation of the program in their operations.

Packers and processors have representation on the program committee, Erith added. This ensures communication between stakeholders interested in knowing what will be available when, and allows processors to give direction regarding quality standards for the fruit.

“You don’t want people planting the variety if they don’t have the capability to grow it,” said Larry Lutz, vice president of Scotian Gold Cooperative Ltd., in Coldbrook, Nova Scotia, which introduced Honeycrisp to the province in 1996. Scotian Gold supplies nearly half of Nova Scotia’s fresh apple market.

Any national replant program will likely mirror the Nova Scotia program.

A proposal sent to Canada’s federal agriculture minister for review last fall remains in process, thanks in part to a federal election in January that postponed its consideration.

The proposal assumes a base replanting cost of $12,000 an acre, with the federal and provincial governments of British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia contributing $4,000 an acre each. Growers would pay the remaining replant costs. The program would cover up to 25 percent of the planted orchard acreage in each province, as well as vineyards in Ontario.

The program is of particular interest to Ontario grape growers, whose vineyards have suffered significant damage from winter cold snaps in 2003 and 2005. Replanted to vinifera varieties in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the vineyards are now in need of renewal.

“A lot of the vineyards aren’t a hundred percent anymore. They’re hurt, and they’re hurt bad. And because of no crops, growers don’t have the funding to replace these vineyards,” said Ray Duc, who has 200 acres of vines at Niagara-on-the-Lake and chairs Grape Growers of Ontario.

“We’re down, and we need a bit of an adjustment to help us get back on our feet.”

Joe Sardinha, president of the British Columbia Fruit Growers’ Association, said the proposed national program is better-rounded than the B.C. program insofar as it addresses the needs of grape growers as well as orchardists.

Since 1991, B.C. growers have replanted 9,400 acres of orchard, of which 60 percent was replanted with apples and 40 percent with cherries and other stone fruits.

Funding of $43 million was split 60-40 between the federal and provincial governments. About $5 million of funding remains available to growers over the next two years, after which B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Bell is not making any promises.

“I’m not for a moment discounting the possibility of a replant program continuing, but one of the things that I have asked from the executive of the [B.C. Fruit Growers’] association is to come back to me with a plan and a strategy around creating a longer-term sustainable agriculture industry in the Okanagan,” Bell said.