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A Fruitful Century

The Land Commission Act

A fruitful century

The British Columbia provincial election of August 30, 1972, resulted in great changes for both the B.C.F.G.A. and the industry in general. The victory of the New Democratic Party changed the ground rules for relations between growers and government which had existed for the previous twenty years of Social Credit government.

The Social Credit government of Premier W.A.C. Bennett, although he himself came from a fruit growing constituency, had generally shown little interest in the affairs of the orchardists, or of farmers generally. Bennett’s interests lay in the industrial development of natural resource extraction and power production and in expanding transportation routes within the province. Agriculture got short shrift when it came to the time and attention of the provincial government, as Charlie Bernhardt recalls:

I remember going to the annual presentation of the Federation of Agriculture brief to the Cabinet. They’d get the Secretary-Manager to read it, and W.A.C. Bennett would say, “Any questions, anyone?” All looked at each other. Silence. “Well, thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming. It’s been very informative.” And you were out of that door before you knew it.

To a very large degree the fruit industry was left to its own devices, and when it did look to government, Ottawa was more likely to be involved than Victoria.

The new government of Dave Barrett and the New Democratic Party had had many years in the wilderness to develop its own priorities, and lost little time after the election in putting them into effect. Growing concern about the conversion of British Columbia’s limited supply of good agricultural land into residential or industrial uses had caused all three opposition parties in the 1972 election to promise action to stop the depletion of farmland. After the election, the new Agriculture Minister, Dave Stupich, took farmland preservation as his first priority. Even before the provincial Cabinet had come to any consensus or considered any draft legislation, he announced to the convention of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture that the government would soon pass legislation preventing agricultural land from being rezoned to residential or industrial use. This set off a flood of applications by speculators and developers anxious to have their properties rezoned before such legislation was passed. On December 21, at Stupich’s behest, the Cabinet passed an order-in-council “freezing” farmland by prohibiting all further subdivision until further order.

The explosion was immediate. Speculators and land developers were naturally outraged, but so were many legitimate farmers who were concerned about their prospects for retirement if they were unable to “cash in” the increased value of their land. Orchardists were especially concerned since they were coming through a series of years when returns for their fruit had been too low to allow them to build up cash reserves. Orchardists were not opposed to the idea of agricultural land preservation-the 1972 B.C.F.G.A. Convention had passed a cautious resolution in favour of such action-but they were very concerned that the cost of preserving the resource for all of society should not be borne by farmers alone.

Vignette: Controlled Atmoshpere Storage
by O.L. (Sam) Lau, Agriculture Canada, Summerland

The British Columbia tree fruit industry uses two types of storage facilities, namely refrigerated air (cold storage) and controlled atmosphere (CA storage), to extend the storage life of apples and pears. Fruit, which consists of millions of living cells, continues to respire even after being picked, consuming oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide in order to sustain normal life processes. It is this internal respiration that contributes to deterioration of fruit quality. Fruit respiration is slowed by storage in low temperatures. About 60-65% of the B.C. apple crop is held in air (21% oxygen and 0.03% carbon dioxide) storage until January or February.

In CA storage, fruit respiration is further reduced by limiting the amount of oxygen (1-3%) available for the process and by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide (1-5% or more). The fruit is held in a state of “hibernation” and respiration is maintained at a minimal level to sustain cell life. Each variety has its own ideal oxygen and carbon dioxide level. The gaseous composition and temperature (-1 to 3.3 degrees C) of each CA room are checked, adjusted, and controlled daily. Storage rooms are sufficiently airtight to restrict entry of oxygen from the outside. Ventilation is often needed to introduce the required oxygen into the room. Excess carbon dioxide resulting from fruit respiration is removed by mechanical or lime scrubber. The latter was originally developed in Nova Scotia and is used extensively in the Okanagan.

Research on CA storage of apples was started in 1915 in England by Drs. F.D. Kidd and C. West. In the Okanagan, it was started at the Summerland Research Station by Dr. D.V. Fisher, involving McIntosh in 1936 and Delicious in 1939, and by Dr. S.W. Porritt on McIntosh, Delicious, Spartan, and Newtown apples and on Bartlett and dAnjou pears in the 1950s and 1960s. Their recommendations were adopted by the industry for successful storage of apples and pears until February, March, or April. CA-stored apples are firmer, higher in acids and sugars, and lower in storage disorders (e.g. scald, bitter pit, breakdown, core browning, and flesh browning) than air-stored fruit.

Tree Fresh Storage plant, Kelowna.Courtesy B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd.

The first semi-commercial CA storage trial was conducted on McIntosh in Summerland in 1940 using galvanized sheet metal and grease to form the gastight seal for the room. This led to the first commercial shipment of 500 boxes of CAMclntosh apples in Canada.

Development of “rapid CA storage procedure”, establishment of “optimum maturity standards for apples”, and use of “1.0-1.5% oxygen storage atmospheres” by Dr. O.L. Lau of the Okanagan Federated Shippers Association in the late 1970s and 1980s have further improved fruit quality and extended the marketing season until June, July, or August.

At the 1973 B.C.F.G.A. Convention, when Charlie Bernhardt was elected president to replace the retiring Allan Claridge, the resolutions of censure for the government’s actions came hot and furious. Stupich attempted to reassure the growers of the government’s good intentions, but they were not convinced he had their welfare in mind. In an emotional three hour session on the evening of January 16, the speakers asserted that society as a whole must bear the cost of preserving farmland. Consideration had to be given not only to growers who were looking for a viable livelihood from farming but also to those orchardists who wanted to sell their land. Resolutions passed calling for reasonable returns for farm produce, for compensation for any restrictions placed on the sale of farmland, and for provincial government consultation with farm organizations.

Bernhardt, who as well as being president of the B.C.F.G.A. was also president of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture, spiritedly took the battle to Victoria. In response to the introduction of Bill 42 (the ”Land Commission Act”) in the Legislature on February 22, 1973, he advised farmers not to plant a crop that year. Protest demonstrations at government offices and courthouses throughout the province were coordinated with a mass rally against the Bill in front of the Legislature in Victoria on March 15. Fruit growers and other farmers found themselves mixed in with and supported by speculators and those ideologically opposed to any controls on land use, plus the Social Credit opposition. In front of a crowd of 2500, Bernhardt found himself sharing a megaphone with W.A.C. Bennett.

demonstraDemonstration at Victoria, February 22, 1973.Courtesy BCMAF

But despite all complaints and opposition, the government continued with the preparation and passage of legislation. Stupich’s original proposal of a scheme whereby the province would purchase development rights from farmowners by a lump sum payment, which would have placated most farmers, was rejected by the Cabinet as too costly, and the legislation as drafted and passed contained no provision for compensation to landowners. There was, however, agreement that some form of a farm subsidy program would be set up to compensate farmers. This later came into being as the Farm Income Assurance Program.

The Land Commission Act was passed in the Legislature on April 16, 1973. While opposition from some quarters continued, the Act was generally accepted when it was clear that the government was not going to back down on agricultural land preservation. Indeed, even the succeeeding Social Credit governments since 1975 have deemed it politically inexpedient to reverse this legislation, although tampering has reduced its effectiveness considerably.

Instead, the emphasis of concern shifted to the question of just what sort of assistance or subsidy the government would provide to compensate farmers for their lost speculative opportunities and to ensure that agriculture remained an economically viable occupation.

Vignette: CA Storage and the Market

The first fully commercial CA storage in Canada was constructed at Frelighsburg, Quebec, in 1953,’ soon after similar operations had shown success with McIntosh in the northeastern United States. B.C. Tree Fruits began testing CA storage of Macintosh in 1956, when two 10,000-bushel CA rooms were built at Rutland.

As well as its importance to marketing by lengthening the distribution season, CA storage had an almost immediate effect on the apple industry in terms of the economic value of particular varieties of apples. Almost overnight, CA storage made obsolete those varieties of winter apples, such as the Winesap, whose chief recommendation had been that they stood up well in longhold cold storage (just as, during the 1920s and 1930s, those varieties had themselves replaced Wagener and others which been prized as doing well in common storage). Now the more popular fall varieties, such as McIntosh and Red Delicious, were available out of CA storage practically year-round. Washington started using CA storage commercially in 19573, and already in the 1958-59 season B.C. Tree Fruits found it necessary to have a special campaign to move Winesaps, which had in the past commanded much higher returns than fall varieties. After 1959, Winesaps were no longer recommended for planting.”

British Columbian growers could no longer delay adoption of the new storage technique if they wished to remain competitive. A Special General Meeting of the B.C.F.G.A. at Penticton on April 22,1963, approved construction of a 135,000 bushel capacity CA storage plant at Kelowna, to be operated by Sun-Rype. Further industryowned facilities were built at Kelowna and Oliver in 1964 and 1969. These, plus CA plants built by independent packers and cooperatives under a scheme where B.C. Tree Fruits paid them the difference between the cost of CA and regular cold storage, brought overall controlled atmosphere storage capacity in the Okanagan- Kootenay region to 1,400,000 bushels by the end of 1969-sufficient to store well over a fifth of that year’s total apple crop.

In 1970 a separate industry company, Tree Fresh Storage Ltd., was established to take over and operate the industry-owned facilities. Thus responsibility for CA storage, which was a matter concerning the fresh crop, was removed from Sun-Rype which was otherwise exclusively concerned with the processing side of the industry. By the 1988-89 season, CA storage facilities in the Okanagan provided a capacity for 3,463,000 bushels (173, 154 bins in 130 rooms) of fruit, accommodating 35-40% of the B.C. apple crop.