B.C. fruit producers and vineyards waiting on word regarding AgriRecovery after deep freeze

Grapes on a vine in the Okanagan Valley (Photo by McKay Savage, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

B.C. wine of a 2024 vintage is going to be hard to find in the coming years, as vineyards and fruit producers in much of southern B.C. are reeling from a cold snap in January — the latest in a series of major challenges for the high value crops grown in the region.

“I’m hearing as much as 70 to 80 per cent bud damage on the cherry side of things, and similar on the wineries and vineyard side of things,” says AJ Gill, director of agricultural risk management resources with MNP, based in Kelowna, speaking with RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney in the interview below.

The deep freeze followed on the heels of a frost in 2022, wildfires, the so-called “heat dome” in 2021, and the pandemic’s impact on demand and supply chains.

While the B.C. government has recently announced $70 million to assist with re-planting grapes, cherries, tree fruits, and berries, the fruit and wine industries are waiting to hear back from the federal government on the possibility of an AgriRecovery disaster relief program.

“We have been waiting to hear back on if there would be AgriRecovery in this situation,” says Gill, noting there is a precedent as AgriRecovery was offered to frost-affected vineyards in Ontario last year.

Related: Winter weather delivers another blow to an already challenged B.C. cherry crop

“We know the province has been tackling this issue and working with associations and farmers directly, looking into it and reviewing if there’s a gap,” he says.

Some wineries also face a challenge in accessing farm business risk management programs such as AgriStability since they report regular business — not farm — income, he notes.

Unlike annual crops, the impact of the freeze will be felt for years, as trees and vines will need to be replaced and inventories will have to be rebuilt, which could take five to seven years in the case of a winery, says Gill.

While it presents a huge challenge in the short term, he also sees it as opportunity for the fruit and wine industries to reset with a plan for longer-term sustainability.

“Reports have been around the 54 per cent of vines are dead, so they’re going to need to be replanted. I think it’s an opportunity for us to make sure that we’re getting the right varieties in the right places,” says Gill. “I think this is an opportunity now for everybody to step back and look and say, ‘Okay, we’ll be looking at what the next 20 years looks like and make sure we’re ready for that, and we’re planting it accordingly.”

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