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B.C. fruit growers must “dig deep”

February 1, 2011  By The Canadian Press


apples01January
31, 2011, Penticton, BC – British Columbia’s new agriculture minister says
fruit growers must cultivate ways to improve their profile and place in the
market.

January
31, 2011, Penticton, BC – British Columbia’s new agriculture minister says
fruit growers must cultivate ways to improve their profile and place in the
market.

Ben
Stewart, whose family has more than a century of farming history in the
Okanagan, was handed the agriculture portfolio following a Liberal Party
cabinet shuffle last October.

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Addressing
orchardists at the annual B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association conference in
Penticton on Friday, he suggested growers could still dig deeper for innovation
starting with analyzing whether current funding is getting the highest rate of
return.

He
said capitalizing on existing markets is one way to become more profitable,
adding growers must also press the public to adopt the shopping-local concept.

Stewart
said technology is being used to create competitive market advantages for some
in the agricultural industry, and B.C. growers should also determine if
modernizing operations will make businesses more cost-effective.

He
also urged growers to shift their reliance on government funding in favour of
marketplace partnerships.

“This
industry is really important to me,” said Stewart, “I come by it honestly
having grown a lot of crops that you still produce today.”

More
funding must go towards research to help farmers focus on pest management for
fruit flies such as the spotted wing drosophila, he added.

Last
summer, the government provided $5,000,000 funding for B.C. Tree Fruits to
generate original ideas that would have long-term benefits, to raise the
industry’s profile.

In
relation to that funding, Stewart announced on the launch of the Tree Fruit
Market and Infrastructure Innovation Initiative. The initiative will be
accepting proposals from fruit producers and be administered by the B.C. Fruit
Growers’ Association
.

Orchardist
Dominic Rampone asked if there are plans to address the declining markets and
the resulting “hurt in the industry that is happening today.”

Stewart
said orchardists need to be able to extract a higher market return, noting that
projected returns for this year’s apple crops are significantly less than
growers were getting about 30 years ago.

Grower
Fred Steele suggested it’s time for a fundamental change to people's outlook.

“I
continually hear about the industry surviving,” he said. “I think what we have
to do is change the mindset to find a way to make it grow and prosper and get
on a sound footing.”

Both
government and those in the industry must talk about and look ahead to its
prosperity, rather than lament its mere survival, Steel said.

“The
fact of the matter is we can have all the studies in the world that we want and
if we can’t afford to do anything because there’s no money in the industry at
the moment, we are faced with going on like a dog chasing its tail.”


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