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B.C. orchards assessing impact of extreme cold for third winter in a row

Minister says government is committed to doing more to help
2022 bud damage at Paynter's Fruit Market in West Kelowna.

The challenges are mounting for wine and fruit growers in the Okanagan after another devastating cold snap has hit crops.

Wine Growers BC CEO Miles Prodan says the impact on vineyards could be “catastrophic”. Fruit growers are still assessing the damage.

The president of the B.C. Cherry Association, Sukhpaul Bal, says the association is currently gathering information from its members and will have more to say next week. Early indications, however, suggest that there could be significant bud damage.

Alan Gatzke of Gatzke Orchards in Lake Country says he’s only had a cursory look, but it’s pretty easy to find damage across the varieties he grows. He’s concerned that the buds not showing obvious damage are partially damaged and won’t set fruit. He’s planning to take cuttings to force the buds to see what actually ends up blooming.

Despite his concerns, he doubts the extreme cold that lingered over the Okanagan in mid-January will wipe out crops entirely or kill trees in his Orchard. Other growers might be worse off. Only time will tell.

Agriculture and Food Minister Pam Alexis says her government is committed to doing more to help.

“The B.C. wine industry and the tree fruit sector are facing challenges in the wake of a changing climate, and we are here to help them succeed. These challenges reinforce the importance of being ready and able to adapt to climate change, including how and where certain crops are grown,” said Alexis in a statement to Castanet, pointing to the government’s $200 million investment in B.C. food security.

“We are working hard to develop programs that support innovation, climate resiliency and increased production for all crop producers in B.C. This includes a new $15 million perennial crop renewal program to help revitalize the tree fruit and grape sectors with projects that remove unproductive or damaged crops and replaces them with new varieties that are heartier to a region’s climate conditions. We’ve also been working with B.C. tree fruit and grape growers on a stabilization plan that helps growers improve competitiveness, production, and sustainability," added Alexis.

Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart, whose family runs Quails’ Gate Winery, said it’s the worst he’s seen in more than 45 years in the business. He says solutions need to be found to sustain wineries that have been hit hard and prevent fallout in the tourism sector.

It could be a hot topic at a town hall meeting in Kelowna Wednesday night with BC United Leader Kevin Falcon.