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B.C. fruit growers hope to revitalize local industry

to revitalize local industry


March 15, 2008
By Marg Land


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They came, they saw, they planned.
It’s been nine months in the making and even longer in the planning and
imagining but British Columbia’s fruit producers have
“enthusiastically” endorsed a new strategic plan aimed at revitalizing
their industry.

They came, they saw, they planned. It’s been nine months in the making and even longer in the planning and imagining but British Columbia’s fruit producers have “enthusiastically” endorsed a new strategic plan aimed at revitalizing their industry.

The plan, aimed at having B.C. farmers grow consistent, high-quality fruit and differentiate it from produce grown in other areas, is based on five pillars: integration, quality production, markets, human resources and new varieties.

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According to an article in the Kelowna Daily Star, the integration part of the plan “recommends the co-operative fruit-packing houses come together to form a single entity whose activities are closely integrated with those of the Okanagan Plant Improvement Corporation” and the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA). Three packing houses in B.C.’s Okanagan area have already integrated under the banner of the Okanagan Tree Fruit Company.

For quality production, the idea is to improve tree-fruit production in the province so that by 2012, 75 per cent of the industry’s production will be in the highest-grade categories with less than five per cent variation in quality, year to year.

To achieve these objectives, the plan suggests:
•  forming an innovation council,
•  increasing the use of automation in labour-intensive operations,
•  extending the replanting program for five years to encourage grower
adoption of newer varieties and high-density trees,
•  strengthening and co-ordinating
extension services available to promote efficient and effective horticultural practices,
•  increasing the level of interaction between the industry and educational and research institutions,
•  upgrading packing and grading
technologies and processes within the packing houses, including introducing a revised grading system that focuses on maturity.

On the market end of things, the plan would like B.C. producers to move away from commodity markets and focus on niche markets. It sets a target of 2012 for producers to be receiving 20 per cent of their revenues from specialty varieties, specialty packs and organic production. In return, the plan calls for an increase of average prices for B.C. tree fruits that is greater than the rate of inflation and hopes that by 2008, the price of 80 per cent of varieties, by volume, will equal or exceed those generated by growers in Washington State.

•  A promotion program would be required. Key components would include:
•  supporting programs targeted at B.C. consumers,
•  exploring varied packaging,
•  developing institutional markets,
•  developing an export opportunities program, and
•  encouraging the development of value-added enterprises to meet market demand through market research and education.

In the area of human resources, the plan suggests attracting workers to the industry by:
•  working with municipalities regarding related housing bylaws,
•  initiating a worker-housing program that will provide suitable accommodation for seasonal workers, and
•  increasing awareness of seasonal opportunities for local residents by undertaking promotional programs and working with the federal government to introduce a vacationers-as-pickers program.

Under the final pillar, new varieties, the plan calls on the B.C. industry to be continuously developing and commercializing new fruit varieties so that by 2015, at least 10 per cent of sales revenues will be generated from varieties commercialized within the previous 10 years. To help drive the commercialization of new varieties, at least three new varieties will be under market development at any given time involving 50 or more acres in test production.

Sounds optimistic, doesn’t it?

But it’s desperately needed, and not just in B.C. A recent meeting involving the Grape Growers of Ontario resulted in a plea to Ontario residents to buy local fruit and juice products or watch those industries dwindle away.

“It’s crazy; you can buy a peach from China for less than a peach grown here,” GGO chief executive officer Debbie Zimmerman is quoted as saying. “We don’t do enough to promote our own produce grown here.

“We need programs to support our own farmers here in Ontario and across Canada.”

She is urging the government to help the industry promote itself in the marketplace.

In the case of the B.C. plan, the industry isn’t planning on waiting for government assistance. It sets duties, names responsible organizations and identifies how government and industry can work together to bring resources to the industry. And the costs will come from within the industry, with some government support.

The plan was prepared by a Vancouver consulting firm, in consultation with stakeholders from the province’s entire tree fruit industry. It was unveiled in late January during the BCFGA’s 118th annual convention in Penticton, B.C.

With files from CP


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