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A Fruitful Century

Report of the Select Standing Committee on Agriculture, 1978

A fruitful century

During 1977 and 1978, the Select Standing Committee on Agriculture investigated factors which affected the price of food in British Columbia. Unlike 1974, tree fruit farmers did not present scores of briefs to the Committee. Even so, there were competing points of view on the efficacy of marketing boards. Since the United Fruit Growers was now bankrupt, it was Bert Hume of Allied Fruit Growers who made a presentation against marketing boards.

Charlie Bernhardt and Richard Bullock, as President and Vice President respectively, submitted briefs on behalf of the B.C.F.G.A., as did Ian Greenwood and Lionel Desharnais for B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. and Sun-Rype Products Ltd. They emphasized that B.C. Tree Fruits did not have a monopoly, and did not operate on a supply management basis. There was free trade in apples and nominal tariffs on soft fruits. They noted that the price at which American fruit sold in Canada was the strongest factor in establishing the B.C. Tree Fruits price. In a highly organized food system with a few major corporations controlling most of the sales, it was “vital for producers to organize themselves in order to give themselves marketing power.”

When the final research reports of the Select Standing Committee on Agriculture were presented, some of their statements were discredited and rejected by the B.C.F.G.A., the agricultural community in general, and even the Minister of Agriculture. Even so, it is of interest to note the comments that were made on the B.C.F.G.A.’s and B.C. Tree Fruits’ relationship to wholesalers and to packinghouses.

Unlike the 1973 Hudson Report, which blamed the rise of the dissidents on the poor farming practices and general indebtedness of the rebels, the research staff of the Standing Committee gave another perspective. Agreeing with the MacPhee Report of twenty years earlier, and referring to current conditions, the new report identified the sales policy of B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. and packing house policies as a major cause for the rise of the dissidents. B.C. Tree Fruits, unlike the other B.C. agricultural industries which dealt with perishable products in the domestic marketplace, restricted its sales outlets to a few wholesalers. The wholesalers did not give B.C. Tree Fruits any special status because of this privilege. In place of this method, the Report recommended a “total market approach” in which B.C.F.G.A. members and B.C. Tree Fruits could sell to both retail and wholesale markets. It further recommended

Hedgerow planting in the Van Roechoudt orchard, Okanagan Centre, 1978.Courtesy IOA

That the marketing strategy of B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. be revised to broaden the sales base of both domestic and export sales and rescind the present policy of customer selection.

That the B.C. Tree Fruit Marketing Board bring forth the necessary regulations to allow the grower to assume full operational control of industry companies. Such regulations to specifically include opportunity for a total industry management structure.

It was also noted that the practice of having all fruit go to packing houses was not economical in terms of returns to the growers. A more flexible approach was recommended. To reduce charges, only apples which needed washing, waxing, grading and packaging should be sent. Poorer quality fruit designated for Sun-Rype Ltd. or fresh fruit used for immediate retail sales should bypass the packing houses. Even though the report mentioned improvements that could be made to B.C. Tree Fruits’ domestic marketing practices by making them more flexible, it still re-affirmed the one-desk selling concept. One-desk selling was basically a good system which needed a few improvements. Therefore, the report recommended:

That the B.C. Marketing Board generally referred to as the “Super Board” be instructed to ensure that the above recommendations are carried out to the extent that equity and maximum grower returns are attained and that any industry reorganization is done in such a way as to attract all tree fruit growers.