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A Fruitful Century

B.C.F.G.A. Submissions to the Minister of Agriculture and to the Select Standing Committee on Agriculture

A fruitful century

The B.C.F.G.A. and its locals presented a variety of briefs to the Minister of Agriculture and to the provincial government’s Select Standing Committee on Agriculture when it toured the province in the spring and summer of 1973. As far as the tree fruit industry was concerned, it was the first in-depth analysis made since the 1958 MacPhee Report.

The parliamentary committee analyzed agriculture in general and invited briefs from numerous types of agricultural organizations as well as interested individuals. By the end of the summer, there were seventy presentations relating to the tree fruit industry, more than all the other briefs on other forms of agriculture in British Columbia combined. The interest in the tree fruit industry and its marketing structure was high.

Vignette: Agricultural Land Reserves
by David Stupich (Minister of Agriculture, 1972 – 1975)

During the four years it took me to get my degree in agriculture at the University of British Columbia, I was continually told by one professor after another of the limited amount of agricultural land in B.C. I was also impressed by the rate at which the best farm land was being covered with residential developments, shopping centres and business or industry. I made up my mind that I would do what I could to save agricultural land. I was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1963. was promptly made our agricultural critic and made an annual pitch for agricultural land preservation during the next six years in the Legislature.

The N.D.P. assumed office September 15, 1972, and I was sworn in as Minister of Agriculture. Some two and a half months later, speaking at the annual convention of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture in Vancouver, I said that our government would take steps to preserve high quality agricultural land for food production in the province of B.C.

In response to a flood of applications to subdivide farm land, the government froze all land that had been identified as agricultural land when the owners made application for the special rate of property tax applicable to agricultural land. We then set about identifying the specific areas to be designated in the agricultural land reserve (A.L.R.), regional district by regional district.

Maps based on the interim work done by the Canada Land Inventory programme were prepared and sent out to every regional district office in the province. The staff was given the opportunity to review these maps and was then obliged to hold public hearings. The regional district councils then had to approve their final draft of A.L.R.s and submit them to the B.C. Land Commission.

The next step was for the Land Commission to review the proposed land reserves. The Land Commission was instructed by the Environment and Land Use Committee of the Cabinet to provide for the possible expansion over the next five years of residential, commercial, and industrial land demand. That committee had the maps further reviewed by staff and heard appeals from people who wanted further exclusions from the Reserve.

The final stage in the process was for the maps to be submitted to Cabinet for government endorsement.

Although appeals were still possible, the result of this programme was to make it difficult for farmers to get their land out of the reserve in response to an opportunity to sell it for some other form of development. The Premier [David Barrett] and myself had promised the B.C. Federation of Agriculture that we wanted to make it possible for farmers in B.C. to make a living farming agricultural land rather than developing it.

The Land Commission Act was introduced in the Legislature in the spring of 1973. The Farm Income Assurance Programme was introduced in the fall of that year.

The B.C.F.G.A. took the opportunity offered by a receptive government to make the needs of its members known. Newly elected B.C.F.G.A. president, Charlie Bernhardt of Summerland, and B.C. Tree Fruits/Sun-Rype Products president, John Duncan of Penticton, met with the Select Standing Committee on Agriculture on April 4 when the Legislative Assembly was sitting. The two industry leaders requested a study to determine what type and size of orchard would be economically viable. They also asked for time at the end of the summer to rebut any charges that might be made against the B.C.F.G.A. and its marketing arm, B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd., by dissident members.

Another B.C.F.G.A. brief was presented to the Minister of Agriculture on May 8, when he visited Kelowna. It emphasized the dissatisfaction, unrest, and criticism caused by low economic returns to tree fruit farmers. It pointed out the lack of faith in the tree fruit industry by growers and a lack of hope and optimism for its future. To alleviate matters for the short term, the Association requested a Guaranteed Cost of Production Policy to pay 12 cents a pound across the board for Fancy or better grades of all varieties of apples grown in 1972.

For the long term, there were a number of other recommendations. The main one asked for income assurance for better quality apples based on production costs. A second suggested that government take over all irrigation districts which would then be declared a provincial resource. A third wanted an automatic surtax on foreign imports, appropriate loans to restructure operations, and pension security. The Association realized there would likely be a need to control overproduction of tree fruits. Therefore, marginal operations and locations should be removed by converting them to other commodity or land uses. If these recommendations were implemented, tree fruit farming could become an economically viable way of life.

The last run of the C.P.R. tug and barge service, at Summerland slip, February 15, 1973.Courtesy Mrs. Mary Orr

The B.C.F.G.A. laid the blame for industry ills, dissatisfaction, unrest and criticism to low income. . . .
[A] $2 industry in a $5 economy.

The Select Standing Committee heard loyalist B.C.F.G.A. members argue against those who wanted to do away with one-desk selling and revert to the market anarchy of the pre-1939 period. The following are excerpts from a variety of speeches in the words of the growers themselves.

There is [sic] in my estimation only two ways we can market our fruit and this is through B.C. Tree Fruits and local sales. In order to have an orderly marketing system, one-desk selling is a must. B.C. Tree Fruits in its years of operation has developed an orderly marketing system bar none. Going a little further, I believe a National Fruit Board would work very well throughout all of Canada. . . . Inspection on price and quality controls should be a must. (John Shukin, Member B.C.F.G.A., Creston Co-operative Packers, afternoon June 12, 1973, Creston B.C.)

Thinning.Courtesy BCMAF

Young people just aren’t staying on the farm, partly because there wasn’t any money in it. . . The parents, the pioneers in the valley, just got so they couldn’t handle the farm; the kids went away and so they sold an acre here and an acre there and so on, until for % of a mile east and 1 mile south, what used to be prime orchard land is all housing now. (Dick Penson, Director Creston Co-operative Packers, afternoon June 12, 1973, Creston, B.C.)”

I believe that one-desk selling could be greatly improved. Theoretically, it should work, and I think if they changed the policy-that whoever wanted to come to it could buy-it would make a big difference. . . . Central selling to me means central selling. I feel the way it’s done now is not central selling. It’s central surrender to wholesalers. (Alfred Biech, Chairman, Oliver Local; Chairman, Southern District Council B.C.F.G.A., afternoon June 14, 1973, Oliver, B.C.)

I could say that the majority are for central selling. There are those that are not and they have said their piece and I respect them for it. I will say that what has caused this great rift or crack in the industry can probably be traced directly back to the economics of growing tree fruits at this particular time-which is very poor. (Richard Bullock, Chairman of the South East Kelowna- Okanagan Mission local, B.C.EG.A.)

Vignette: The B.C.F.G.A. and Government
by Charles Bernhardt (B.C.F.G.A. President, 1973-1976)

The election of the N.D.P. Government in 1972 marked the beginning of a new era in the work of the B.C.F.G.A. Previously, the scope of our involvement had been limited to what was often called “fences, culverts and tax” issues and we were often given the impression that the bigger issue of agricultural policy should be left in the hands of government, since it alone understood all the factors that must dictate policy.

The B.C.F.G.A. had always been a strong supporter of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture. It was one of those fortunate incidents of history that I happened to be President of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture just at that time. Communication, policy and strategy were developed in the quickest and smoothest way-just what the fast moving events called for. It was also fortunate that the Directors of the Federation had previously established a “Cost of Production” Committee with Pat Hibbert of Enderby as chairman. (He later became President of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture.) The purpose of this committee was to develop the input figures entailed in growing food so that we could more precisely articulate the policy needs of agriculture. This Committee marked the beginning of much that followed and should be credited with giving us confidence to perform the deeper and broader role demanded of us.

The Land Commission Act, when made public, served as a catalyst that roused the agricultural community and the confrontation that ensued had a considerable impact on the public at large. Although quite disturbing to us at first, on reflection we realized that this was exactly what we needed to happen. We not only had everyone’s attention but more particularly, we had the attention of the government on our problems. We soon learned that it actually meant to do something about rectifying the inadequacies in agriculture. The Premier, Dave Barrett, and the Minister of Agriculture, Dave Stupich, challenged us to tell them what needed to be done and charged us with the task of identifying the needs and measures appropriate to them. This was a major step-indeed, a long stride-away from what we had often felt in the past, that we were like Oliver Twist, going cap in hand, asking for more.

This task, we felt, had to be carried out primarily under the guidance of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture for overall policy, with each commodity group responsible for developing its own specific needs. The B.C.F.G.A. developed a comprehensive brief for our industry wherein we urged the government to recognize that we must have incomes that return the cost of production to us. We felt that attaining this from the market place was beyond the abilities of a provincial government, so we proposed a form of price insurance program. We had heard of such a program for apple producers in New Zealand and suggested that the Ministry of Agriculture could acquire the details of the program so that it could be studied to ascertain its suitability for us in B.C. However, the Ministry did not do this, preferring to develop a program itself using the input supplied by us.

This was no easy task. Discussions and negotations were long and sometimes very hard, requiring a firm and unified stand. The results achieved were a decided advancement for agriculture. This success can be credited to three factors; a government willing to do something and cooperate with us in doing so, an overall organization working in complete accord with its membership, and the support of the membership in backing its spokesmen.

In late August, the British Columbia Fruit Board, the B.C.F.G.A., B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. and Sun-Rype Products Ltd. presented a joint brief to the Committee. They were fighting the “unfounded claims, false statements and insinuations” of the dissidents. Their viewpoint is summed up in the following statement by Nigel Taylor, Chairman of the B.C. Fruit Board, who championed the preservation of the one-desk selling agency, B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd.:<

It can plan the orderly disposition of the entire fruit crop of the Okanagan, Similkameen and Creston Valleys, with far greater knowledge of general marketing conditions, [and] . . . obtain prices far higher for the growers than could a multi-desk system, whether under a minimum pricing system or not.

By the end of the summer the B.C.F.G.A. was not only united with other farmers represented by the B.C. Federation of Agriculture in trying to obtain a Farm Income Assurance program, but also was fighting a rearguard action against a minority of disgruntled tree fruit growers who wanted to have a minimum price for apples and sell on their own.