by SUSAN MANN
Ontario apple farmers need an orchard replanting program to help them transition to varieties consumers demand and switch to high-density tree plantings.
Brian Gilroy, chair of Ontario Apple Growers, says the organization has been ramping up its efforts to lobby the provincial government to get a seven-year program for “a while now and we’re trying to put some fine detail to it. But we don’t have any OMAFRA people working with us yet to design a program.”
The Apple Growers’ current focus is on getting a funding commitment from the government, he says, noting it’s a good time to ask since a provincial election is being held this fall.
So far Apple Growers representatives have met with both Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell and deputy minister John Burke, Gilroy says. Now the organization is looking at next steps.
The Ontario industry has shrunk to 11,500 acres of apple trees province-wide from 28,000 acres in 1994. Gilroy says without a “shot in the arm” like a replanting program the industry will continue to dwindle.
A report for the apple, tender fruit and fresh grape industry released last spring notes that fruit consumption in the province is increasing but Ontario producers’ market share is declining.
Gilroy says they are proposing a program to replant 25 per cent of Ontario’s acreage. “We’re asking for $10,000 an acre and the grower will put in at least $10,000 an acre.”
In 2009 the federal and provincial governments introduced a three-year, $22.3 million program to help tree fruit and grape growers cover some of the costs to remove unwanted or unproductive trees and vines and transition into alternative varieties or crops.
Ontario is the only province that hasn’t had an apple orchard replant program, Gilroy says. BF