The new president of the BC Fruits Growers’ Association says the industry must “redouble” its efforts to remain competitive in 2013.
In his address to members for the 124th annual convention in Penticton, Jeet Dukhia noted the end of 2012 was challenging, citing the controversial resignation of former president Kirpal Boparai.
“It is now important to unify all of our members under a stable, inclusive and strong association.”
Dukhia said apple returns are expected to be good for the 2012 crop, but the record size of the Washingston State crop, and the return to normal production levels in eastern Canada means BC growers must work harder to remain competitive, he added.
Dukhia stated that cherry prices in 2012 were down sharply as rainy, cool weather caused issues with crops and quality. These difficulties were compounded by a record size crop in Washington State, he pointed out.
Oliver grower David Machial marked several highlights in 2012, including the apple crop freeze in eastern Canada. That situation should have a positive impact on 2012 apple returns in BC, he noted.
The other highlight (or low point) in 2012 was the disastrous cherry market, said Machial, who likened cherry prices (returns) to being “brutal.”
Another problem he saw last year, and one that will continue this year, is the “huge challenge” to find reliable farm labour.
“Farmers have a hard time finding workers . . . during the apple season, most workers pick grapes.”
Machial said he’s waiting to see what happens in the upcoming election and how the results will impact BC agriculture.
But in the end, it’s quality fruit that will help growers hold their own in 2013, he pointed out. Machial said growers who previously suffered poor returns may cut corners in their production regimes. But they “can’t get caught in that trap” when they are trying to grow quality fruit, he said.
Besides better returns and ideal weather in 2013, Machial would like to see more consumers support neighbourhood farmers. “We really need local citizens to step up (and buy BC fruit).”
Dukhia noted the BC cherry sector needs to be cohesive to weather changes in the marketplace.
He noted the BCFGA established a cherry committee to address challenges in the industry, and the executive also supports the formation of a BC Cherry Council to provide resources for promotion and research.
Dukhia said the BCFGA wants to have a long-term action plan, including a mechanism in place when market returns do not cover growers’ costs.
“The province must work with industry to utilize all of the federal agriculture programs to their fullest extent.”
He noted the lack of provincial funds, compared to other provinces, has resulted in a loss of $70 million in the federal share of agriculture programs in BC over 10 years. He stated if the government is to support agriculture to the extent witnessed in competitive areas, it must increase the budget from $65 million to $130 million.
Dukhia outlined several positive aspects that BCFGA members realized in 2012: the province announced $2 million for a replant program; direction on the Columbia River Treaty has been maintained, and members continue to work with vegetable marketing associations to seek a place at the bargaining table for a renewed treaty; and progress has been made on establishing an Apple Research and Promotion Agency.
The executive will focus on the following priorities in 2013: Growing Forward 2 will be realigned, with greater focus on international marketing and competitiveness; and the BCFGA will continue to support cooperative and independent packers to utilize federal programs.
Executive member and Oliver grower Nirmal Dhaliwal said the government’s replant grant announcement was good news, but it was disappointing that it came with conditions, such as the requirement to replant the same commodity that was removed.
Dhaliwal said last year’s weather was very challenging for valley growers, resulting in poor cherry crops and low prices. Some farmers had to abandon their crops altogether, he noted.
In 2013, Dhaliwal is looking forward to changing the replant program conditions. “Growers are hoping for a long-term commitment on the replant program (so they can plan ahead), not just short term.”
Dhaliwal is also looking forward to improving exports to China and a lower Washington State crop of apples and cherries. He stated BC’s apple tonnage has declined significantly over the past 30 years (from 12 million boxes to three million).
Finally, Dhaliwal said BC growers deserve a piece of the pie from the Columbia River Treaty. He noted the money the government gets from the United States goes into general revenue, but some of it should go to growers.
“The US is using this water, and their apple tonnage has increased, which is killing us. We want a piece of the pie, so it (funding) doesn’t come from BC taxpayers.”