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A Fruitful Century

The Natural Products Marketing Act of 1934

A fruitful century

The federal Natural Products Marketing Act of 1934 was the culmination and the answer to a decade of agitation in the Okanagan for a better system of marketing fruit. The Act is usually dismissed by historians and other analysts as just one of the various pieces of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett’s “New Deal” package, which is considered by some to be a panic move by a government afraid of impending elections. Such casual dismissal is unfortunate. The NPMA preceded Bennett’s desperate imitation of President Roosevelt’s American New Deal by many months.

The atmosphere in Canada had, since 1929, become more favourable to government regulation of agricultural marketing, as even traditional opponents were unable in Depression conditions to operate profitably. Thus marketing legislation had as unlikely a supporter as J.S. Roger, president of the Canadian Fruit and Vegetable Jobbers Association, who called for legislation similar to the British Marketing Act which allowed the government to set prices and production quotas when a majority of producers and processors agreed.

The changed atmosphere was reflected in the changing pronouncements of the politicians. At the National Agricultural Conference of August 29 to September 1, 1932, Robert Weir, the federal Minister of Agriculture, suggested that “we have given too much attention to some of the questions of production, and not enough to the question of marketing.” In Regina, during the summer of 1933, agricultural leaders and politicians from the four western provinces, including British Columbia’s Premier Tolmie, discussed proposals for Dominion agricultural marketing legislation. In a letter to the former B.C.F.G.A. President, R.H. MacDonald, written August 7, 1933, Tolmie promised “to render every possible assistance in bringing about Federal legislation which will adequately cover our requirements and prevent disaster to this important industry.” Prime Minister Bennett indicated his willingness to act, within the limits of federal powers, and promised to investigate those limits. One result of his investigations was the Natural Products Marketing Act.

Although, in its finished form, the Act allowed for provincial marketing boards for all farm products except grain, and for other natural products such as lumber and fish, its original intentions were more humble. The Act was at first intended to apply only to dairy products and fruit, but because of the difficulty of defining the exact range of products, the drafters avoided the problem by including everything in the bill and leaving the detailed definitions to the administrators of the schemes!

Rome Beauties awaiting hauling on the Bonnett orchard, Oliver, 1935.Courtesy IOA

The initiative for the Act came from the dairy and especially the fruit farmers of British Columbia. This pressure was expressed through the Hon. Grote Stirling, MP for the constituency of Yale (which included the Okanagan), who was generally acknowledged as the father of the bill. He described his principle: “The producer should have in his own hand the power of conducting the marketing of his produce in an orderly fashion and this cannot be done until there is a majority rule of the minority.”

The Natural Products Marketing Act had a slow passage through the Commons, strongly opposed by the Liberals who claimed that it was not really a government bill at all, but an electioneering trick, a child “born of the farmers and producers, of western Canada particularly, and especially of the Pacific coast.” The leader of the opposition, W.L. Mackenzie King, strongly denounced the principle “of creating monopolies of producers in particular occupations, special groups controlling production and sale of different classes of products and commodities.”1’3 The bill was finally passed into law on July 3, 1934; the British Columbia Legislature had already passed enabling legislation so that it could come immediately into operation. The urgency of the plight of the Interior fruit growers can be seen by the fact that theirs was the first commodity scheme to be approved. It came into effect on August 28, 1934, just in time for the apple season.

Courtesy Country Life in B.C.

The Local Board is empowered to regulate the time and place at which the tree fruits grown in the Interior of the province may be marketed; to determine the quantity and quality of the fruit marketed; to assess and collect tolls to defray expenses; to pool the proceeds from the sales among the shippers.

Even though the stabilization campaign had failed in the courts, the growers showed that their campaign still held. For three years in succession they elected a Local Tree Fruit Board consisting of Haskins, Barrat, and Hembling, the three former executives of the United Fruit Producers’ Association.

Courtesy Country Life in B.C., 1936

The Tree Fruit Board had only moderate success selling the 1934 apple crop. The apples tended to be oversized and of poor keeping quality, which caused restricted export sales and hurried domestic sales.157 Despite these problems, when a referendum of growers was held in the spring of 1935 as to whether the scheme should continue, about ninety per cent voted yes.

The relationship of the Tree Fruit Board to the growers’ organization, and the nature of the growers’ organization, came in for scrutiny as the 1934 season progessed. Even the name, “British Columbia Fruit Growers’ Association”, was questioned. Some felt that it symbolized one side in the old cooperative-independent feud. Some of the delegates at the Tree Fruit Board Electing Convention in November felt that the Board could provide all that was needed, without any outside growers’ organization to question its decisions. A committee elected to consider the matter, however, recommended that the B.C.F.G.A. name be retained and that the Association be reorganized to represent all growers registered with the Board.

The 1935 B.C.F.G.A. Convention adopted a new constitution, the third since 1932, based on those recommendations. Any producer registered with the Tree Fruit Board was eligible to be a member (so membership was, in effect, limited to the Interior, where the Board operated), and there were twenty-nine local branches, each entitled to send one voting delegate to the annual convention for each fifty members or fraction of that number. Each local could also nominate a delegate to the annual Electing Convention which selected the members of the Tree Fruit Board. The local branches were grouped into five districts, each of which elected one member of the B.C.F.G.A. Board of Directors. The Association was authorized to finance itself by a box levy of up to a fifth of a cent per box or package on members.

Vignette: A Clipping from Country Life, 1936 B.C.A.T.P.A Convention held in the Okanagan

The second annual meeting of the British Columbia Apple Tree Pest Association was held at Ben Davis Corners, January 16 and 17. President Bob Codling Moth opened the meeting and introduced Mr. Squirt Gun, President of the Spray Machine Manufacturers’ Association. After extending a welcome to the delegates, Squirt Gun congratulated those present on their past efforts, and stressed the need of a higher birth rate in fruit tree pests.

Following Squirt Gun, President Bob Codling Moth outlined the activities of the Society and stressed the importance of working together.


Careful consideration had been given to the proposals of President E.R. Grasshopper, that the Society of Grass Chewers and Vegetable Eaters combine with the B.C.A.T.P.A., but the executive had turned them down. It was thought that there was little in common between the two Societies and that the S.G.C.A.V.E. should continue on their own.

It was the opinion of the President that, for the past four or five years, they had controlled the apple producing situation very well and no effort should be spared to prevent it from getting out of hand. He cracked down on those members who had got out of hand and were working independently, disregarding all the rules of the Association. He said: “While it is to our benefit to keep fruit growers short of funds, it avails us nothing when a few members step out and are not satisfied until they have killed all the trees in an orchard.”

The President made it clear that the object of the Association was to keep the apple growers just in a position where they would not be able to purchase too many spray machines. In closing his remarks he urged that any criticism be constructive and that there be free and open discussion of problems before the Convention.


After the applause had subsided a resolution indicating laxity on the part of the fruit inspectors was introduced. This met opposition from some quarters on the ground that poor fruit going to market would depress the price, but the majority contended that the more codling moth left at home the better. Many of these worms would be useful in restablishing themselves in the orchards the following year. The resolution was carried.


A lively discussion took place on the use of “hootch pots” in determining spray dates. All codling moth present condemned the use of intoxicating beverages and demanded that a resolution be passed asking for the prohibition of their use. Considerable argument took place and the general opinion was that the older codling moths should stay at home nights and look after their children. If the children received the proper home training they would not be going out getting drunk and thus betraying their activities.

The use of the radio by the Department of Agriculture was criticised and a resolution passed asking that the Government forbid the broadcasting of spray dates. This had led to a more efficient use of the meagre spray equipment in the Valley. Many growers were benefiting to such an extent that codling moth weren’t safe any more in their orchards. In the discussion on this resolution Peter Leaf Roller showed a little feeling for the grower when he pointed out that the broadcasts came too soon after lunch. The growers were all set to listen to the merits of a new brand of chewing tobacco and instead heard someone say: “Spraying for codling moth must be completed in five days.” This must be very unsettling, perhaps responsible for indigestion in many cases.


This remark drew fire from the President and a verbal clash between the President and Peter Leaf Roller followed. The President accused all Leaf Rollers of lying down on the job during the past seven or eight years, and of now sympathizing with the growers. “What did it matter if appie growers did get indigestion? They wouldn’t spray so well.”

Peter argued that he had been here before the codling moth and had played a very important part in controlling apple producers.

Before the President could reply European Red Mite rose in defence of the Leaf Rollers and told how growers ten or twelve years ago had said: “Why all the fuss about codling moth? The Leaf Roller is more important.” By distracting the growers’ attention, the Leaf Rollers had given the Codling Moth a clearer field.

Alex Red Mite then told of how a grower with an old machine had practically eliminated codling moth from his orchard when he and his men had stepped in, stunting the growth of the apples and preventing further coloring. If it had not been for timely interference this grower would have done well this year, and probably would have purchased a new machine next year, but will have to get along with the old one now.


Pearl Oyster Shell, in her paper on cooperation, congratulated Alex Red Mite and Peter Leaf Roller on their work. She was pleased to see Leaf Rollers stepping into the limelight once more. She congratulated Harold Apple Scab on his work in the north end of the Okanagan. Max Wooly Aphis and Jim Perennial Canker also came in for high commendation for their fine spirit of cooperation. She lashed out at Crown Rot, Die Back and Fire Blight, whom she considered enemies of other Apple Pests. They didn’t know the meaning of co-operation. They were not satisfied until they had killed the whole tree. This meant poverty and starvation to many families of deserving, law-abiding, peaceloving apple tree pests.


Lizzie Powdery Mildew congratulated Pearl Oyster Shell on her address and presented a resolution asking the Government to abolish the Tree Fruit Board on the ground that any organization trying to improve the position of the grower was working against the interests of apple tree pests. This was carried unanimously.

The final resolution asking for increased tariffs on spray equipment and insecticides and a lower duty on apples was carried without discussion.

Before adjournment a plea was made to the representatives of spray machine manufacturers present to encourage smaller machines, to raise their prices, demand larger first payments and give shorter terms. It was made clear that Apple Tree Pests had made their business possible, because without pests there would have been no use for spraying equipment. The B.C.A.T.P.A. believed that so long as only enough machines came in to replace the old ones they could hold their own and increase to some extent.

Prosperity of apple growers was bad medicine for pests and every up-to-date, high-powered sprayer coming into the Okanagan meant more prosperity.

(This wicked parody of growers’ conventions was written by Ben Hoy, Provincial Horticulturist at Kelowna, and appeared in Country Life in British Columbia for February, 1936.)

Spraying at Fintry.Courtesy Vernon Museum and Archives

The federal Natural Products Marketing Act was disallowed by the courts in 1936. A voluntary arrangement made by ninety-five per cent of the growers to continue operating along similar lines to the Board’s control proved unsatisfactory, and the call for government action was renewed. In 1937, the provincial legislature passed a revised version of its own Natural Products Marketing Act which permitted regulated marketing, if sanctioned by a sufficient majority of growers. This provincial legislation allowed “regulation and control in any respect or in all respects of the marketing of natural products within the Province, including the prohibiting of such marketing in whole or in part.” The Provincial Marketing Board, whose main power was in maintaining prices by regulating the rate of release of fruit by shippers, continued to operate; but growers still pushed for a return to centralized selling. An experiment with one-desk selling in the latter part of 1938, whereby the shippers agreed to sell through British Columbia Tree Fruits Limited, which the Provincial Marketing Board designated as the sole agency for the marketing of apples, was found successful. The B.C.F.G.A. Convention of January, 1939, voted for a similar scheme to cover all shipments in 1939. A plebiscite held that spring showed over ninety per cent of growers favoured the plan.