Ritz predicts AgriRecovery for Ont. fruit growers

An AgriRecovery program is likely for Ontario’s frostbitten apple and tender fruit growers, according to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

Questioned Monday in the House of Commons by NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen, Ritz noted an estimated two-thirds of affected fruit growers, whose trees were pushed into early blossom by warm weather ahead of the frost, will be covered by crop insurance.

"We also have AgriRecovery, which will pick up the slack after that," Ritz was quoted as saying in the Commons. "There are a number of different venues open to farmers who have made use of those management tools."

Fruit growers in the province are "poised to lose tens of millions of dollars" to this spring’s frost, and apple growers alone are expected to lose about 80 per cent of their crop, Allen said.

Apple orchards in the Georgian Bay region and southwestern Ontario are expected to suffer the greatest damage, the provincial agriculture ministry said Thursday. Pear, cherry, peach, nectarine, apricot and plum growers are also reporting "significant damage" to their crops, the province said.

"The full extent of the province-wide impact will be known in coming weeks," the province said in a release.

"I know how much this loss means to the farmers involved, and not just in economic terms," provincial Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin said in a statement Thursday after touring an orchard at Beamsville, between Hamilton and St. Catharines.

"I will continue to closely monitor the situation as we work to assess the damage and develop strategies that will best support the industry."

Federal ag department officials have also been touring the area and looking over the crops, Ritz noted Monday.

In a typical year, Ontario accounts for 40 per cent of all the apples grown in Canada and the Ontario apple crop has an annual farm gate value of $63 million, with other tender fruits valued at about $40 million, the province said.

Allen, whose Welland riding is in the Niagara region, suggested in the Commons Monday that programs exist to deal with "minor losses" such as when a single farmer is hit with a bad season.

"However, when an entire sector is hit, like it is now in Ontario, special measures should be taken to ensure its future is not put at risk."

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