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A Fruitful Century

Chronicle: 1987

A fruitful century

The necessity for agriculture in every area must be accepted not only as a source of food but as an environmental resource. Nations have a duty to create viable agricultural communities. . . . British Columbia produce is better and is worth paying a little extra for. We need the security of an agricultural resource close at hand and some day we may need it in grim reality.

(“Editorial”, Country Life, Aug. 1987.)
  • A Tree Fruit Industry Strategy for the long term health of the industry was released at the Annual Convention in January. Federal and provincial government representatives had worked for a year with the B.C.F.G.A., B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd., Sun-Rype Products Ltd., and Okanagan Federated Shippers, in this blueprint for the future. It stated that apple and soft fruit production were worth about $200 million per year, providing direct jobs for 5,300 in British Columbia with 2,500 employed in Interior packing houses. But B.C.’s apple production was no longer considered to be large enough to influence world market prices. In addition, controlled atmosphere storage in other parts of the world posed a major threat to B.C.’s traditional offshore markets. British Columbia needed to accelerate orchard renovation to high density plantings. Orchards were aging and some apple varieties were undesirable to customers. There was also a need for more government supported research on new products, new markets and marketing techniques.
  • The B.C.F.G.A. membership strongly criticized attempts made by the B.C. Tree Fruit Marketing Board to admit independents to the Marketing Board during the previous year. Fred Marshall, B.C. Tree Fruits President, pointed out that a board with supply-management capabilities would be more appropriate than the present board which he considered obsolete.
  • The B.C.F.G.A. voted to keep its membership closed to growers doing their shipping through private companies. However, it struck a membership committee to examine the issue more fully.
  • The Report of the Executive to the Annual Convention stated that, starting with the 1985 crop, F.I.I. would be paid only for commercial and better grades of fruit. This was in keeping with the intent of the original 1974 program to aid growers of better quality fruit.
  • The Minister of Agriculture, John Savage, announced that the amount available to pay provincial F.I.I. was going down, while the premiums were going up. This constriction was a result of the successive years in which farmers had had claims.
  • In the spring opening of the provincial Legislative Assembly, the Throne Speech hinted that F.I.I. would be abolished. However, perhaps due to some agitation from farmers, it was restored in the Budget Speech.
  • After a number of years of low volume crops, 1987 was a bumper year for production in all commodities, even though hail storms caused significant damage, especially in the Summerland and Naramata areas.
  • Apple growers were given the opportunity to insure their crops on an individualized basis taking into consideration the historical market value for their crops. Therefore, growers with higher quality apples would be able to insure them for larger amounts.
  • B.C.’s largest independent packing house, MacLean and Fitzpatrick, which served 120 growers, went bankrupt. Many of the independent growers were welcomed back to the B.C.F.G.A.
  • A two year National Tri-partite Stabilization Program for apples was negotiated by producer groups from the five Canadian apple producing provinces, supported by their respective Ministers of Agriculture and the federal Minister of Agriculture. The program would commence in the 1987 crop year. As it was directed at the national level, the new program was meant to complement, not replace, provincial support programs such as F.I.I. in B.C.
  • Federal stabilization payments for the 1983 and 1984 crops were paid to the full extent of the Agriculture Stabilization Act: 90 per cent of the five year average. Finally paid in 1987, the money was slow in coming.
  • In the opinion of the Executive of the B.C.F.G.A., the federal Farm Credit Corporation was not providing reasonable credit to farmers.
  • The provincial government increased the loan limit to $50,000 per applicant for specific farm improvement projects, including orchard renovation, under the Agricultural Land Development Act (A.L.D.A.) program. However, it eliminated the Partial Interest Reimbursement program at a time when many provinces in Canada had recently developed low interest, long term capital loan programs for their farmers. The loss of the program was a big disappointment for agrarian groups in B.C., where farmers had suffered more from the recession than anywhere else in Canada.
  • Orchard renovation was needed to grow top quality fruit. Therefore, the federal/provincial Agriculture and Rural Development Subsidiary Agreement (A.R.D.S.A.) program provided $2,000 of the $10,000 renovation costs per acre up to a maximum of three acres per fruit farm.
  • The 1986 apple crop had been successfully marketed. Since crop returns were close to the calculated cost of production, F.I.I. payments would be less than in previous years.
  • In 1987, there were early bloom dates with good pollination. The growing season was hot and dry, as was the picking season. As a result, some of the apples suffered sunscald injury. But, overall, the apples were large and of excellent quality, and Okanagan orchardists harvested their largest crop of apples since 1983.
  • The situation of orchardists in arrears on their debts continued to worsen.
  • The Executive of the B.C.F.G.A. was alarmed over the sharp budget reduction of 19 per cent from the previous year for the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
  • B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. advised members of the B.C.F.G.A. not to use the controversial growth hormone, Alar, on their 1988 crops. Signed affidavits of non-use were required from each grower.
  • The B.C.F.G.A. office switched to a computer program for accounting and word processing functions. Their computers were linked to the main computer of B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd.
  • The Canadian Senate’s study on land degradation in Canada mentioned that two of the most agriculturally productive areas in the province were being subjected to conflict over land use. The small but intensive orchard holdings in the Okanagan had resulted in serious soil acidification and some water erosion.
  • B.C.F.G.A. members continued to play major roles in the B.C. Federation of Agriculture. The B.C.F.G.A. was its second largest group member. David Hobson, Vice-president of the B.C.F.G.A., was elected B.C. Federation of Agriculture President. Special concerns were Free Trade with the United States, and the possibility of the government of British Columbia opting out of supply management plans.
  • At a B.C. Federation of Agriculture meeting, Henry Wiebe, president of the Okanagan Fruit Producers’ and Shippers’ Association, thanked B.C.F.G.A. president, Gerald Geen, for his efforts on behalf of all fruit growers during the Free Trade negotiations.

Vignette: From Vernon Fruit Union to Okanagan North Growers Cooperative by Jamie Kidston (President, Okanagan North Growers Cooperative)

In February, 1964, a fire destroyed the Winfield plant of the Vernon Fruit Union; by the fall of the same year a modern, new, concrete building had been erected to replace the old wooden building, and new packing equipment had been installed.

In the late 1970s fruit packing was carried out in Vernon, Woodsdale, and Winfield, with cold storage facilities in Vernon, Oyama, Woodsdale, and Winfield. The packing equipment was old and inefficient, and a decision was made to purchase and install one modern packing line utilizing pre-grade, pre-size technology. The Winfield building was the only one large enough to house the new equipment, and by September, 1980, the new line was in operation there. Thus a fire in 1964 determined where the main operation of the V.F.U. would eventually be established.

In 1980, B.C. Fruit Shippers Ltd. (B.C.F.S.) closed their operations, which by then were in Vernon only. Most of the B.C.F.S. growers joined the V.F.U. The V.F.U. purchased additional land in Winfield in 1978, and controlled atmosphere storage facilities were built thereon in 1978 and 1981 (totalling 23,744 bins).

By 1987 the Vernon Fruit Union was no longer mainly a Vernon operation-the major plant and office were located in Winfield and the growers were spread from Rutland and Glenmore, in the south, to Salmon Arm and Kamloops, in the north. A name change was proposed to better reflect the organization, and in December, 1987, the growers voted to adopt the new name: Okanagan North Growers Cooperative.