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Viability of vineyards questioned in South Okanagan Similkameen

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen directors ponder practicality of growing grapes
Grape growing has become the dominant use of farm land in the Okanagan Valley. Members of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board are questioning the long-term viability of grape growing, following two recent severe cold snaps. (Black Press file photo)

The province is working to have a $70 million replant program launched in September, with $23 million of this amount for grape replants.

The funding, which comes on the heels of two consecutive severe cold snaps, is not being introduced to deal with the losses of up 95 per cent of grapes across the Okanagan.

Rather, it is about dealing with blocks of land that are no longer viable, said Lindsay Hainstock, the regional agrologist for the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

At the same time, the effects of two significant freezes, in December 2022 and in January 2024, are affecting agriculture in the region, she said.

She added that other weather events in the future will further affect agriculture.

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“It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen again, it’s when,” Hainstock said.

While the program includes $23 million for replanting lost grapes, members of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board questioned the viability of growing grapes in the region.

Marty Van Alphen, a Summerland councillor, said some of the land now used for grape growing has not been suited to grape production.

Dir. Matt Taylor, from Electoral Area D, Skaha East and Okanagan Falls, noted that a report from the Ministry found that in the Okanagan two-thirds of the farm land is being used for grape growing, with all other crops making up one-third of the land.

Dir. George Bush, from Electoral Area B, Cawston, said some of the grape varieties grown in British Columbia are not suited for the climate.

“We don’t need to pay people to grow the same varieties that are going to fail,” he said.

Bush added that land now used for vineyards had once been used for other crops instead, and suggested a return to earlier land use.

“It would be great if we could replant this land back into vegetables, because that’s what’s needed,” he said.

In Oliver, 90 per cent of the land once used for growing vegetables is no longer used for such crops, according to Bush.

Dir. Bob Coyne, from Electoral Area H, rural Princeton, echoed Bush’s comments.

“Are we going to keep growing wine grapes where we should be growing vegetables or apples?” he asked. “I hate to see government money going in to very poor business plans.”

The final details of the replanting program are still under works and the exact replanting policy, including whether it will include a shift away from grapes, has not been released.

John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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