Minister Visits Okanagan

The Federal Agriculture Minister heard firsthand how crucial agriculture is to the economy of the North Okanagan.

Marie-Claude Bibeau took part in a roundtable discussion in Vernon that included food producers, processors and local government representatives.

“I’m ready to jump in for the whole country,” said the Quebec MP who was appointed agriculture minister by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau March 1.

“Agriculture is a strong industry and contributes to the economy across the country.”

Among those that Bibeau met with was Tony Dyck, founder of Okanagan Spirits, the venue of the roundtable.  Dyck told Bibeau that distilleries are charged an excise tax for their product and that’s limiting private sector investment and job creation. “Small distilleries across B.C. and Canada need some help,” he said, adding that Okanagan Spirits sources its fruit and grain locally.

A similar message also came from Melissa Dobernigg, owner of The BX Press Cidery. “Alcohol production is a way to revitalize the family farm and agriculture. It’s a way to add value to (culled(fruit that no longer has a value,” said Dobernigg.

Labour was also on the agenda as growers experience some challenges with the foreign worker program.  Sukhpaul Bal, president of the B.C. Cherry Association, suggested to Bibeau that the federal government allow growers to hire people visiting the Okanagan on a tourist visa. “There are a lot of people who want to work here for the short fruit season, but don’t have the (work) visa,” said Bal. “We have the employees but we need the housing,” he said.

 In Kelowna, the Minister brought cheques.  She announced $4.2 million dollars for the Canadian Agriculture Partnership to develop new apple and sweet cherry varieties for niche markets in Asia and Europe.

The Summerland Research and Development Centre will get $2.1-million - it has a long history of introducing new apple and cherry varieties.

Bibeau indicated that when funding from industry sources is included - more than $6-million dollars will be directed to varietal research.