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A Fruitful Century

Chronicle: 1980

A fruitful century

We had a lot of sleepless nights and you could see what was happening to the Valley, as well. At that point in time, inflation was beginning to take off, prices weren’t going anywhere, and costs were escalating at unheard-of rates. We were getting into double digit inflation and our wage rate was going [up], everything was going [up], sprays, everything was getting out of hand . . . high interest rates. In ’80, ’81, it got to a peak and you could start to see it happening. (Richard Bullock recollects, 1988.)

  • Richard Bullock of East Kelowna became President of the B.C.F.G.A., resuming a position he had previously occupied in 1978.
  • Growers had an extremely bad year mostly due to the beginning of a recession which lasted for a number of years: there were rising costs, high interest rates and low returns for growers.
  • Unions appeared in the farm labour field.
  • The 1980 apple crop was the best ever in terms of quality and quantity.
  • To improve the coverage obtained from Farm Income Insurance, (F.I.I.: Farm Income Assurance was renamed when B.C.’s laws were consolidated under the Revised Statutes Act of 1979), renovation of old orchards began.
  • The B.C.F.G.A. began work on a test orchard in Oliver.
  • The provincial government attempted to bring all marketing boards under direct control from Victoria.
  • Due to uneven adoption of new technology by the various packing houses, while returns continued to be pooled, stresses resulted from the way costs were allocated and returns distributed.
  • Problems arose with packing houses using the newly organized B.C. Tree Fruits/Sun-Rype Board as a forum for airing their general complaints against each other.
  • An inter-governmental committee on urban and regional research was told by an expert that the uniqueness of the tree fruit industry and the rural landscape it created ranked high on the list of features which attracted tourists to the area. Garth Maguire of Vernon pointed out that only 1/100 of one per cent of the province’s entire area is suited for fruit production and the majority of that land is in the Okanagan. He emphasized that the Okanagan Valley is a unique area in Canada, containing the largest orchard acreage of any Canadian tree fruit growing area, and accounting for more than 25 per cent of the total value of tree fruits produced in Canada.
  • District Horticulturist, Ted Swales, noted that apple growers in B.C. had been slow to use the growth regulator, Alar
  • The B.C.F.G.A. office moved from 1473 Water Street to 1636 Pandosy Street, Kelowna.

Vignette: B.C.F.G.A. Test Orchard
by John Edwards (Test Orchard president, 1981-1986)

At the urging of Mr. Art Theurer, a well known and long time Oliver grower and nurseryman, the 1978 B.C.F.G.A. Convention passed a resolution instructing the Executive to examine the feasibility of establishing a grower-owned Test Orchard facility. The goal was to enable the industry to carry out trials of new varieties, strains, rootstocks, etc., on a commercial basis. Due to limits on time and space, trials producing commercial qualities had been impossible. Also, growers are bombarded by colourful and often misleading advertisements. If careful research isn’t done, after several years, the grower may find that he has a product unacceptable to the market place or unsatisfactory for Okanagan growing conditions. The convention agreed that a Test Orchard could overcome both of these problems.

The Executive set up a sub-committee of the Horticultural Improvement Committee. B.C.F.G.A. members were John Edwards, chairman, David Hobson, vice-chairman, and Brian Mennell. Dr. Norman Looney represented Agriculture Canada and Dr. Maurice Welsh the provincial Ministry. Retiring shortly afterwards, Dr. Welsh was replaced by Mike Sanders, provincial Tree Fruit Specialist.

The committee made two early vital decisions. Firstly, all plantings and trials would be done following recognized scientific and statistical procedures so that published results and data would be credible, statistically valid and professionally supportable. Secondly, the Test Orchard should be established on a completely new site, if possible. Committee members felt that results from plantings in a new location would be applicable on a comparative basis.

Suitable Crown land was found near Oliver. The committee became an industry-owned company, the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Test Orchard Ltd., and in 1980, a lease-purchase agreement was signed with the provincial government. Growers and industry committees were consulted for their perceived needs and suggestions. Wells were drilled for irrigation water. Rocks and scrub timber were cleared. Solid-set irrigation was installed. A combined office-workshop-storage building was put up. Trees and rootstocks were ordered.

The first trees were planted in the spring of 1981. A new, young manager, Clive Nickerson, was hired in the summer of 1983.

The Test Orchard could not have been established without substantial financial support from both the federal New Crop Development Fund and the A.R.D. A. Branch of the provincial government. Valuable assistance was also received from other departments of the two governments. Their participation was recognized in the summer of 1981 when the Hon. Eugene Whelan, federal Minister of Agriculture, and the Hon. J.J. Hewitt, the Minister of Agriculture and Food for B.C., officiated by cutting a symbolic ribbon at an Open House held at the orchard.

Even now (1989), valuable data and information have already been collected and recorded from these early plots. Some trials have now completed their usefulness and have been removed to make room for new projects of current importance. Some observational trials have been planted where it is felt that detailed statistical data and records are not necessary.

To make evaluation of the crops as complete as possible, most of the fruit is shipped to two of the Valley packing houses for the normal procedures of grading, packing, storage, and so on. This process ensures accurate comparisons with regular industry production as far as the market place and is considered a necessary step before any new variety or strain can be recommended to growers by the Test Orchard.

Official opening of B.C.F.G.A. Test Orchard, Oliver, August 20, 1981. Eugene Whelan (federal Minister of Agriculture), James Hewitt (B.C. Minister of Agriculture), and Richard Bullock.Courtesy Oliver Heritage Society

The flow of Test Orchard information to the grower-owners comes through on-site field days with horticulturists and other experts present, an annual open house with the directors and manager, individual grower visits to the property, and an extensive report presented to the annual B.C.F.G.A. Horticultural Forum with details printed in the Proceedings of the Forum.

With less than a decade of operations completed, the ultimate benefit to growers of the Test Orchard is evident. Farsighted growers initiated the project and accept responsibility for its support. The benefits of their vision will be reaped by their successors through increased production of higher quality fruit, lowered costs, and an improved ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world.