Ont. fruit growers’ transition fund nearly maxed out

Fruit growers’ applications have already put Ontario’s orchards and vineyards transition program (OVTP) close to its allocated funding limit for 2009.

Agricorp, Ontario’s ag program delivery agency, warned eligible growers in a statement Friday that if they haven’t yet applied, they’ll want to submit applications now to get in line, if not for 2009, then for the program’s final year in 2010.

“Once you apply, we will send you a letter either confirming your acceptance in the 2009 program year or placing you on a priority list for 2010,” the agency said.

“If you are on the priority list for 2010 funding, wait for formal acceptance from Agricorp before removing your trees or vines. We can’t guarantee your funding if you start your removal project before receiving formal acceptance.”

First announced in February 2008, the three-year, $18 million federal/provincial program is meant to help grape, apple and tender fruit producers adapt to industry pressures and changing markets.

OVTP funding is meant to cover tree and vine removal costs and help growers draft new strategic commodity plans.

The program was developed when tender fruit and grape growers in Ontario found themselves hit hard by the closure of fruit and grape juice processing plants and needing to adapt their orchards or vineyards to new markets — meaning new varieties, such as those grown for eating fresh rather than processing.

Making changes in an orchard or vineyard is known to be costly because of the time it takes for trees and vines to mature before they can provide a return on investment.

The OVTP is budgeted for the removal of about 11,000 acres of trees and vines. As of Wednesday, the program had received over 1,100 applications, verified 9,147 acres worth $14.8 million in funding, and issued over $7.6 million in payments.

Growers with a minimum of 1.236 acres of orchards or vineyards can apply to the OVTP if they commit to keeping the land available to agriculture for five years.

Once accepted, a grower has 12 months to complete the removal project and notify Agricorp. Otherwise, his or her application will expire and the funding will be reallocated to the next eligible applicant.

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