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Vegetable farmer calls for more government support to feed British Columbians

“Farming has become a very capital-intensive business," says an economics professor

He grew vegetables for years at his nine-acre property near Kelowna International Airport, but last year John Nurkowski decided to sign a lease agreement to grow table grapes and cherries instead.

“The problem with growing vegetables is, the fruit stands make, like, a fair rate of return, or the vegetable stands. But to the guy who actually owns the land, it’s pretty marginal."

"It would meet our costs and that was about it,” explains Nurkowski.

He’s concerned that vegetable producers don’t seem to get the same kind of financial support that some fruit growers do for crops that are mainly intended for the export market.

“If we’re giving $5 a tree for an export crop, who is the net beneficiary of support? It’s not Canadians. It’s not British Columbians. It’s people in Asia, people in Europe, people in the U.S. Right now as a vegetable grower, there is nothing. There is no support and yet those are the foods that during the summer, there’s lineups at some of these vegetable stands.”

The B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries says there are supports for vegetable producers in the form of programs that offer marketing, business planning, land matching, innovation and food safety funding. They can also access income protection programs for things like crop losses, or a decline in income due to market conditions, production losses or increased costs.

The ministry has also been increasing opportunities through Grow BC, Feed BC, and Buy BC to encourage the expansion of local food production and increase access to local food.

Still, making a go of it is not easy.

“Well, getting started is hard,” notes Johannes Janmaat, associate professor of economics at UBC Okanagan.

“Farming has become a very capital-intensive business. So, the equipment is expensive and then you add to that, places here in the Okanagan — is that land is incredibly expensive. If you want to be a farmer and you want to own the land that you’re farming on it’s going to be really hard,” he adds that government support to help farmers get into the business would have to be an awful lot of money if you have to buy land.

Janmaat acknowledges that it seems to be more profitable in the Okanagan to grow grapes and cherries. Whether that impacts food security for locals and Canadians, in general, depends on if the supplies of the things that we want to buy in the grocery store are being impacted.

“That doesn’t seem to be a huge case. We certainly had those runs back when COVID started, but since that settled down, by and large, grocery shelves have still remained stocked.”

Nurkowski is just hoping that speaking out about his struggles will convince the government to look at the issue of funding for vegetable producers through a different lens.