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A Fruitful Century

Changing Times: 1974 Onwards

A fruitful century

The 2100 growers know their Association is their advocate, their security and the one entity that can cross boundaries and deal with governments and its own agencies effectively. This is never so true as when trouble strikes. (Don Cheyne, Secretary-manager, B.C.F.G.A.)

Between 1974 and 1989, the B.C.F.G.A. and the tree fruit industry in the province were continually reacting to or initiating change. The three major challenges of that period were how to handle the loss of mandatory one-desk selling for domestic and export sales; how to increase efficiency in order to compete on an oversupplied world market; and how to defuse any rivalries that existed among and between the B.C.F.G.A., B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd., Sun-Rype Ltd., and the packing houses.

Vignette: A Brief History of the Farm Income Assurance Program
by Jack Wessel (General Manager, B.C. Federation of Agriculture)

Farm Income Assurance originated as a proposal from the B.C. Federation of Agriculture to the provincial government in the summer of 1973. The Federation wanted a provincial cost-ofproduction based income security plan for all of the province’s farmers.

Discussions on a new commitment to the agricultural industry were triggered by the implementation of the Land Commission Act.

At the time, the provincial government, through Agriculture Minister Dave Stupich, said to the B.C.F.A. that in restricting the use of farmland to farming purposes, it also accepted a responsibility to ensure that farming was a viable enterprise and asked the B.C.F.A. to make recommendations on achieving that objective. Some farmers urged the B.C.F.A. not to become embroiled in that argument but rather to lead a fight to defeat the legislation. Instead, the organization, led by fruit grower President Charlie Bernhardt, voted to seek amendments to the legislation and to work with the government to bring viability to the industry. After considering alternatives, the Federation recommended a provincial income assurance scheme.

Bernhardt wanted the commitment to farm industry viability written into the Land Commission Act, guaranteeing that the commitment would last as long as the zoning and that the two would not be separated. The provincial government would not agree to tying the two together in law, but did agree to bring in companion legislation. The Farm Income Assurance Act was born.

Farmers resolved that they would present a united approach on F.I.A., led by the Federation of Agriculture. Commodity organizations including the B.C. Fruit Grower’s Association agreed to work through the B.C.F.A. to negotiate costs of production and administrative aspects of the plans. Organizations also agreed that F.I.A. would only be provided to members of the commodity associations.

Courtesy BCMAF

Farmers remained dubious that the financial commitment would be adequate, especially when the government indicated that the plans would be partially funded by farmer premiums. Resolution was reached on this point as the government agreed that farmer premiums under the plan would be included as part of the farmers’ cost of production.

The first commodity to work through a plan was the dairy industry. Next up was the tree fruit industry. Reaching an agreement proved a much more difficult task since there was no basis for formula pricing and the historic relationship of market prices to realistic cost of production was less favourable than that of the dairy industry. At the same time, the government decided unilaterally to exclude the farmers’ premium costs from the cost of production calculations. With the promise that no further unilateral changes would be made, the tree fruit industry eventually reached its first five-year F.I.A. agreement.

At the time, there were a number of producers marketing illegally in defiance of B.C. Fruit Board orders, and since the plan was retroactive for one year, there were questions raised on the admissibility of the illegally marketed fruit. The B.C.F.G.A. proposed that F.I.A. contracts be offered only to those who had a valid contract with a packing house which had been granted a licence to market fruit through B.C. Tree Fruits by the B.C. Fruit Board. Furthermore, it stated that it would ask the Fruit Board to amend its orders to end compulsory one-desk selling for those not wanting to sign the F.I.A. contracts. The provincial government accepted the proposal and onedesk selling ended.

After the tree fruit plan was finalized, several other commodities followed and five-year F.I.A. contracts were subsequently completed for twelve groups.

During this time, Farm Income Assurance was introduced; mandatory one-desk selling was relinquished for domestic sales; “fruitlegging” continued; the New Democrat government was replaced by Social Credit rule; foreign markets were enlarged; more studies of the tree fruit industry were conducted; mandatory one-desk selling for export sales was ended; the B.C.F.G.A. was challenged in the Supreme Court of British Columbia; amalgamation and modernization of packing houses was continued; central pooling of fruit was replaced by individual packing house pooling; administrative restructuring of the industry was implemented; local canneries disappeared; and, in 1989, the Free Trade Agreement was signed between Canada and the United States.

1974 B.C.F.G.A. Executive. Front row: E. Malen, Don Mepham (Vice-president), Barbara Snowsell (Secretary-treasurer), Charles Bernhardt (President), V.A. Pearson. Back row: B.A. Sladen, Ken Hoag, R.G.O. Hall, Richard Bullock, Ken Nuyens.

While B.C.F.G.A. members worked in their orchards to grow high quality tree fruit, and while visitors came from all over the world to study the organization, the Executive continued its lobbying and horticultural improvement functions. Tire B.C.F.G.A. maintained a close relationship with the B.C. Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and the Canadian Horticultural Council in seeking consideration from provincial and federal governments. Government assistance was sometimes necessary because of variations in weather and crops, high interest rates, rising costs and static returns, and dumping of fruit by and increased competition from Washington State and other growers. The B.C.F.G.A. emphasized that tree fruit growing made an important contribution to the provincial economy: eighty per cent of the fruit grown was apples, and the Okanagan Valley was the major apple producing area in Canada. By 1989, 5,400 people were employed on a full time basis in the tree fruit industry. Since tree fruit growing is an important factor in the economic well-being of the Okanagan, Similkameen and Kootenay valleys, it was essential that the provincial and federal governments pay attention to the special needs of the growers.

There were so many horticultural concerns: the need for better quality fruit, the planting of dwarf fruit trees, increased urban pressure on the agricultural land base, and the high price of agricultural land. Moreover, cherry fruit fly and the Little Cherry virus emerged as major hazards. Furthermore, labour shortages, the need for more controlled atmosphere storage, the necessity to control bear, deer, rodent and starling damage to orchards, the jump in prices of farm equipment and supplies, chemical thinning, frost control, and the importance of an adequate water supply and effective use of water resources all needed looking after. And the quest for proper soil nutrition, the effective use of herbicides and pesticides, the use and then the disuse of the growth hormone, Alar, and the need for more governmental extension services and horticultural research and development, all played a major role. Continuing cooperation among representatives of the B.C.F.G.A., Okanagan Federated Shippers Association, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Agriculture Canada were essential.

Courtesy BCMAF

As tree fruit farming became more complex, growers who wished to attain the necessary expertise attended horticultural workshops, tours and demonstrations sponsored by the B.C.F.G.A., the Summerland Research Station, and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture. Better horticultural skills and practices were being sought to counter a major increase in competition from Washington State. Since 1966, this top American apple producing area has increased its crop yields by more than 98 per cent. Although there was a small decrease in the agricultural land base in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Creston Valleys, there had been a slight increase in production. Even so, growers not only needed to hone their agrarian skills but also to improve their financial management techniques. Tree fruit farming as a vocation demands increasingly higher levels of technical expertise in order to compete in a market in which there is a surplus of fruit for sale. To attain this end, the B.C.F.G.A. continued to sponsor its highly regarded Horticultural Forums in November of every year.