Fred Steele, starting his fourth year as president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, said the industry needs to work together and have their priorities set.
One of the biggest jobs facing the BCFGA in 2017 is pushing through the cross-Canada Rejuvenation Program under discussion with the federal government.
“We have to get this right,” said Steele. “It is the one time in 20 years that the federal government did not say no. We have a government today that said bring us something and let’s have a look.”
Steele said getting the program in place will take a lot of work, sacrifice and co-operation, within the association but also with independent packers and the B.C. Tree Fruits Co-operative.
“It’s a real winner for us if we can just pull the last leg off,” said Steele.
If the feds agree, he continued, the Rejuvenation Program would provide powerful incentives to draw younger farmers into the industry with five-year no interest, no payment loans to replant and renew acreage.
“We have to find a way to get growers, especially young growers, on the land. You have an orchard, it has old trees, you can’t get financing, there is a lot of problems with that,” said Steele.
He said increased production through more growers and increased yield from new trees would also help justify upgrading production lines at the packing houses.
“We can’t run this on 60-year-old equipment, it just simply isn’t going to take it,” said Steele.
Steele, who was running for a fourth time at the BCFGA annual convention in Penticton on Friday (Feb. 3) found himself without an opponent when it came time for the members to vote.
During the Friday morning session, fellow nominee Jeet Dukhia withdrew his name from competition.
Though he said there is no bar to being president of both organizations, Dukhia, said he didn’t want to be splitting his attention. Two weeks after being nominated for BCFGA president, Dukhia was elected president of the B.C. Tree Fruit Co-operative.
“I am so busy with B.C. Tree Fruit, it is not fair,” said Dukhia, stressing the need for the two groups to work together.
“I think we can improve if the BCFGA and B.C. Tree Fruits work together,” said Dukhia. “We can have a new direction and put pressure on the government.”
Steele touched on that spirit of collaboration in his acceptance speech, praising the work of his fellow directors and executive and the passion they have for the industry.
“We work very well together. Our executive is a diverse group, and by golly, there is some heated debate at times but we all come to a common ground,” said Steele.
There are challenges and questions facing the industry, he said, like replant programs and increasing numbers of pests.
“We have a lot of them, a lot of invasive pests coming. Where we used to have one every five to 10 years, we’ve got them coming down every three to five,” said Steele. “We’ve got to be able to have the resources at the various levels in order to combat this or at least to control them.”
After Steele was declared president, a motion to open the floor to further nominations for vice-president failed, leaving Pinder Dhaliwal taking the post by acclamation as well.
The other six executive members of the BCFGA were also returned. Peter Simonsen, Ravinder Bains and Deep Brar were unopposed for the South Okanagan positions, while Sukhdev Goraya, Surjit Nagra and Tony Nijjar were returned and challenger Karm Gill was defeated in an election for North Okanagan positions. Both Gill and Dukhia are also on the board of the B.C. Tree Fruit Cooperative.