The agricultural sector in B.C. got a huge boost this week with the provincial government announcing the return of a buy local program, supporting producers, co-operatives and other aspects of the industry.
In the Okanagan, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the program is likely to be fruit growers, along the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative and their marketing arm, B.C. Tree Fruits.
“It is already on our radar,” said Chris Pollock, marketing manager at B.C. Tree Fruits. They have already begun planning an application to the program, aimed at continuing their promotion of their brand in the province.
They are not likely alone, as campaigns under the program can promote B.C. food, seafood, agricultural products, agritourism, and include in-store promotions, social media or web campaigns, traditional advertising and on-product labelling. The funding, however, is only available for promoting B.C. products within B.C. — all applicants must have a head office or be registered in B.C.
“Obviously B.C. is right inside of our wheelhouse in terms of our primary marketplace,” said Pollock. “It’s definitely something we can take advantage of as a co-op. It gives us some additional funding from the B.C. government to help promote the growers and the fruit that we grow in the Okanagan to the rest of the province.”
Pollock expects to see a resurgence of certain groups that see this as additional funding for them.
“Anything we can do to promote B.C. products to the rest of B.C., I think is a positive,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to take advantage of that and continue our push of promoting our brand in B.C.”
Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, which has been lobbying for a return of the buy local program, said they are already working with the co-op and B.C. Tree Fruits, offering to co-operate any way they can.
“We are very pleased with the start of the program,” said Lucas, adding that the new program has some criteria making it easier for an association or a co-operative to apply.
“We think that helps strengthen agricultural organizations,” he continued. “It is possible for private companies to participate but they would have to partner with other parts of the value chain. That could be like a retailer partnering with a couple of producers, or maybe including a co-op association in that pairing would work as well.”
The buy local program will offer applicants matching funds from $5,000 to $100,000 to launch or expand local food marketing campaigns. Eligible organizations include associations, co-operatives, marketing boards, aboriginal groups, companies and non-profit organizations. The province has dedicated a total of $2 million to the program.
“Since being appointed minister, I have been meeting with farmers and food processors in communities right across our province, and I have been hearing some great ideas,” said Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick. “Now is the time to turn those ideas into new dollars for local food producers.”
Lucas said buy local could help growers work with a health district or a regional district to get local products into their system.
“They would probably have to involve a partner, like some agricultural organizations or producers. I think most of the initiative will come from growers and their associations and co-ops,” said Lucas. “They made it very clear in the parameters that it is driven by industry and that is great.”
“It does give us an opportunity to drive home the benefits of B.C. tree fruits and the history of the co-op; who we are and what we are made of, the fruit that our growers grow,” said Pollock. “It is exciting stuff to see the government step up and provide some additional funding for us to really promote our brand and our fruit.”