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Okanagan grape growers hopeful for financial relief after major crop damage

At vineyards across the Okanagan, there are rows upon rows of decimated grapevines.

Mother Nature is believed to have all but wiped out this year’s crop across the valley with last month’s deep freeze.

“I think our crop is 100 per cent gone this year,” said Karnail Sidhu, owner of Kalala Organic Estate Winery in West Kelowna.

The weather-related damage is said to be the worst the industry has seen in more than three decades.

“For 30 years the grape industry hasn’t had something this significant,” said Sue De Charmoy, the president of the B.C. Grape Growers’ Association.

“We’re not sure whether there’ll be much crop this year.  In terms of plant health, we don’t have an answer to that question yet as to whether the vines are alive or not.”

The dire situation prompted an emergency meeting at the Crown and Thieves Winery on Tuesday that was packed with grape growers and winery owners.

The meeting was spearheaded by the B.C. Grape Growers’ Association to, in part offer, expert tips on plant management in the wake of temperatures that neared – 30 C during January’s Arctic outflow.

“Certainly for the farmers, how they prune, how they manage their vines, that’s what we’re trying to get information off to them for,” De Charmoy said.

The meeting also touched on potential government financial relief.

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“Obviously, we’ll be speaking to government at all levels about this crisis in our industry,” De Charmoy said.

It’s a crisis that some fear will result in more wineries closing or declaring bankruptcy.

“It’s certainly the potential,” De Charmoy said. “You know, wineries are very closely linked to growing of grapes and if you can’t have enough grapes, then your winery might be in trouble.”

Wine Growers British Columbia (WGBC) also expressed deep concern.

“Currently the B.C. wine industry is facing an existential crisis that requires broad support to help get us through,” said WGBC president Miles Prodan. “The industry’s $3.72 billion economic impact to the provincial economy justifies government support at all levels.”

Prodan added that WGBC will be meeting with Minister of Agriculture and Food Pam Alexis and Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Lana Popham this week for a briefing on the situation and next steps.

Meantime, while no concrete financial aid has yet been announced, B.C.’s Premier recognized the desperate situation growers are facing on his recent visit to the Okanagan.

“These farmers are under huge pressure because of the impacts of climate change, everything from drought to the cold snaps to the intensely hot summers and we’re going to continue to find ways to support those farmers,” said David Eby at a news conference in Vernon on Friday.

It’s promising news to help a struggling industry weather this latest storm.

“I think the government should step in,” Sidhu said. “It’s a big industry. It employs a lot of people.”

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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