Efforts to market B.C. apples could get a grower-funded boost

Apple growers voting on new levy

Naramata orchardist says small price will provide big benefits to growers in the Okanagan

Apple producers are considering paying a new levy on their fruit to help them grow their profits.

Voting got underway last week on the proposed creation of the B.C. Apple Research and Promotion Agency, which would be funded by a levy of two-tenths of a cent per pound.

Naramata orchardist Peter Simonsen produce about a million pounds of apple each year, meaning he’d happily be on the hook for $2,000.

“I know it’s going to make me money, and that’s the thing: You can’t save your way to prosperity,” said Simonsen, who sits on the executive of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

The BCFGA initiated the vote, but if approved by about 800 eligible producers, the new agency would eventually function independently of the association and do work that complements that of other industry groups.

An information package prepared for growers estimates the levy could generate $316,000 a year and would be collected at the first point of sale, typically a packinghouse. The agency would use the cash to market B.C. apples and fund research projects.

“A lot of growers are complaining, they’re calling it a tax or whatever they’re calling it, but (the levy) is a really small amount,” said Simonsen.

“It gives us a pool of funds, and if we do the right things with the money, like promotion, we will have a lot more than eight cents (per 40-pound box) come back to us.”

David Evans, an Oliver-area orchardist, is concerned about the bureaucracy that collection of the levy will require.

“It’s the logistics of it,” said Evans, who has five acres of apples and this fall received a patent for his new Okana variety.

“A lot of us are independent and we don’t ship to regular packinghouses.”

Simonsen said the idea of the agency has been discussed for years, but was continually shot down because some thought the levy would be a burden on the industry.

Now, however, he thinks the time is right to take a vote.

Similar bodies already exist in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, while Nova Scotia is also considering one.

If that province and B.C. do follow through, Simonsen said, it would clear the path to apply an equal levy on imported apples.

Domestically, the levy would not apply to growers with less than two acres of apples or those who sell directly to consumers. Everyone else, including those selling into the U.S., would pay.

For the levy to be approved, 40 per cent of eligible producers must register a vote, and 65 per cent of them must be in favour.

Voting began at public meetings last week in Oliver and Lake Country. Ballots will be sent by mail to those who didn’t attend.

The final day of voting will be at the BFCGA convention on Feb. 15, 2014.

If approved, the levy is expected to be in place for the 2014 season.

 

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