Funding from the federal and provincial governments will help tender fruit farmers produce more and carve out a bigger slice of the produce pie, a Niagara-on-the-Lake grower says.
Phil Tregunno, owner of Tregunno Fruit Farms, said an $8-million investment being made through the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership will allow farmers to plant new varieties of tender fruit that would, in turn, lengthen their growing season.
“It’s all about import replacement,” said Tregunno, who in addition to running his farm on Niagara Parkway, is chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers.
For example, a new variety of peach called early blush will add 10 to 14 days to the onset of the peach harvest.
“We can replace U.S. products with Canadian products,” Tregunno said. “In the long term, it will bring down the cost of fruit.”
That will take some time, though, as it will take about four years before these new trees bear their first fruit, he said.
Known as the Growing Future Opportunities Initiative, the program will provide eligible producers with cost-shared funding to purchase new plants that will give farmers opportunities to bring more fruit to market.
For wine grape growers, meanwhile, the program will provide producers with access to the same cost-share funding.
Replanted stock will yield varieties of produce that better meet market demand, increase yield hardiness and are more resistant to pests and diseases.
Eligible producers can apply to receive 75 per cent of cost-share funding for plants, with plantings to be completed by the end of 2026.
Applications from apple and tender fruit growers will be accepted starting Nov. 20 while the wine grape component of the program is scheduled for 2024.
The Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership is a part of a five-year, $3.5-billion overall investment in agriculture being made by the two levels of government.
It includes $1 billion in federal funding and an additional $2.5-billion commitment that is being shared between the federal and provincial governments.
Matthias Oppenlaender, chair of the Ontario Grape Growers and owner of Huebel Grape Estates, said the funding is good news for grape growers, who find themselves dealing with never-ending change in the industry.
“We respond to consumer demand, changing tastes and climate change,” Oppenlaender said.
And making those changes comes at a cost, he said.
“When we need to change our varietals, it can cost $30,000 to $40,000 an acre,” he said.
The new funds will be welcomed when the grape growers begin planting new vines in the fall of next year.
“Obviously, it’s great that the governments are assisting the grape growers,” he said.
Lawrence MacAulay, federal minister of agriculture and agri-food said that producers are “a vital part” of Canadian agriculture.
“This funding will help the sector stay competitive while providing Canadians with access to locally grown, healthy, and delicious fruit,” he said in a news release announcing the funding.
Lisa Thompson, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food, and rural affairs, said that the funding will help position producers for the future.
“We’re making sure the agri-food sector in Ontario realizes its incredible potential by ensuring product supply aligns with consumer demand,” she said.