British Columbia fruit growers have voted to continue their support for the Canadian province’s innovative but costly codling moth control program.
Of 435 eligible ballots received by the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, 65.5 percent favored continued grower support for the Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile Insect Release program.
“A two-to-one vote is a fairly strong endorsement,” association president Joe Sardinha said.
The association sent ballots to its 1,040 members in late December. Ballots returned represented about half the apple and pear growers in the association, Sardinha said. That’s about twice the response to a mail-in poll last year regarding the association’s governance structure.
Cara McCurrach, who became general manager of the SIR program in June 2005, welcomed the results. Grower support allows continued government funding for the program through 2007.
A total of Can.$4.6 million in federal and provincial funding committed over the past year to see the program through 2007 hinged on support from growers and local governments. A Canadian dollar is equivalent to about 85 U.S. cents.
The program has cost $49.8 million since its launch in 1992, and the current funding is the last government money the program will see as it moves to self-sufficiency by 2008.
McCurrach explained that the final round of government funding serves to top up the basic $2.9 million the program expects moth control will cost annually in the coming years. The $4.6 million committed over the next two years will fund cleanup costs, primarily in urban areas.
The budget of $2.9 million is currently raised according to a formula that taps landowners for $1.5 million (53 percent) and orchardists for $1.4 million (47 percent).
The arrangement, subject to the SIR board’s approval by March 2006, works out to a property tax on residential property of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or the equivalent of $135 an acre. Growers with 20 trees or more pay $122 an acre parcel tax.
The parcel tax was just $101 an acre last year, and therein lies the rub for growers.
Since the five municipal districts supporting the program agreed to fund the program only if their costs were limited to just $1.5 million, down from $2.3 million last year, growers were left to pick up the difference. The municipalities also requested the opportunity to review their partnership with the program
in 2008, reflecting impatience with the recurring need to finance the program.
But grower support also has its limits, Sardinha said.
The third of growers who voted to terminate support for the SIR program primarily objected to the increase in the parcel tax, which comes at a time when many growers have seen significant decreases in income.
“We aren’t ignoring the growers who voted no,” Sardinha said. “We will be holding