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Water woes could sink local orchardist

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 | 5:36 pm

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Apple trees in the South East Kelowna Irrigation District will suffer if water conditions don't improve. (Photo Gary Moore)

By Kathy Michaels

Kirpal Boparai survived the BC Fruit Growers’ Association’s vice presidential election this weekend, but he’s not sure he’ll make it through another year as an orchardist.

Upon hearing news the snow pack that feeds the South East Kelowna Irrigation District reservoir was far from bountiful, he explained a summer as dry as last year’s could put his 30-year-history as a farmer to an end.

Last year the irrigation district recognized it had a shortage early in the season, so to ensure there was enough water for both residential and agricultural customers they reduced their allotment to 80 per cent of the norm.

To some it was easy enough to maintain. Boparai, however, blew past the limit and had his water supply cut off during one of the most important moments in his crop cycle.

“We were cut off just before we were going to start harvesting,” he said, adding he wasn’t alone.

At that point he, like many others, appealed the irrigation district’s decision, paid a fine and got enough water to get through the rest of the season. Others went without and paid the price with their yield.

“We were really trying to make better use of the water; we didn’t water when we didn’t have to, tried to water later and we tried to do the best we could with the situation, but it was impossible,” he said.

“The trees say when they need water and one of my young blocks started wilting — that’s when you need to get them watered quick.”

That said, H2O restriction will hamper fruit growth and that combined with a year of diminished crop values could be the death knell to a lifelong career.

“If we get cut off again, how are we going to get through this? The fruit and the trees suffer and it’s tough,” he said.
“Prices are not great and we need quality fruit.”

It’s also providing conditions ripe for ending a family tradition of farming.

“My children look at this situation and they say they don’t want to be poor and struggling like their parents,” he said. “My kids won’t be farming, they will do something else. This land is only good if your kids are interested in farming it — it isn’t going to farm itself.”

With the food supply on the line, he says the government needs to step up, ensure farmers can make a go of their business with some financial aid or let the land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve so he and others like him can make a living doing something else.

After all, he said, it doesn’t appear that environmental conditions are going to get any better.

kathy@kelowna.com

Water woes could sink local orchardist5.053

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2 Responses to “Water woes could sink local orchardist”

  1. Fred says:
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    As Kirpal says the timing is everything when it comes to
    growing fruit. During the last ten day, fruit especially
    apples put on most of their size and weight and without the
    water at a critical time, you don’t get the yield.
    Size is everything when harvest comes, without attaining the three main sizes, 100’s 88’s and 80’s you lose a lot of
    money. Those sizes simplified mean, that is the number of
    pieces of fruit in a 40 pound box. Cherries and soft fruit
    are in even more trouble. Not only are people at the mercy
    of the weather they are dependant on water to fill out the
    fruit just before harvest. Kirpal is right here, we are
    facing a serious water shortage if we don’t get considerably more precipitation we could see massive farm
    failures in the coming year. Water conservation is going to be at the top of the list for restraint in 2010.

  2. Mott Hoople says:
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    “With the food supply on the line, he says the government needs to step up, ensure farmers can make a go of their business with some financial aid or let the land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve so he and others like him can make a living doing something else.”

    So that’s what his is about. Sell of the land for housing – have more people pulling more water from an area tight on water so the farm next to them has the same problem a few years from now.

    Sorry this valley has already tried that – hence why farms are having a hard time getting enough water.

    Please continue discussion on the forum: link

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