Fred Steele, the former vice-president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, has become the first nominee for president of the group for the coming year.
At a meeting last week in Oliver, Steele, a Kelowna area grower, was nominated by growers who are members of the South Okanagan-Similkameen region, one of four in the Okanagan. Incumbent president Kirpal Boparai of Kelowna, who is serving his first year in the president’s position, was not nominated by the 30 or so growers who attended that meeting.
However, incumbent vice-president Jeet Dukhia of Vernon was nominated for that position again, but so was former president Joe Sardinha of Summerland, who stepped down from the executive last year after seven years as president.
The past few months have been tumultuous, both for Boparai and the fruit industry in general. The Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative recently ousted Boparai for breaking his contract by bypassing the packing house system to market his apples independently. That ouster was followed by a resolution approved at the co-op annual general meeting to pressure the BCFGA to remove Boparai as president.
Steele said growers all must work together to solve the problems of the industry, which needs to work on a good relationship with the co-op packinghouse, B.C. Tree Fruits, governments and everyone connected to the industry.
“There’s been too much controversy and we have some big issues we need to concentrate on,” said Steele, who was nominated for president by three regions last year, while Boparai was only nominated by one.
The South Okanagan growers also nominated Peter Simonsen of Naramata, Denise MacDonald of Summerland and Nirmal Dhaliwal of Oliver to the board. All are incumbent board members. The BCFGA convention is in Penticton on Jan. 19.
The OTFC and its marketing arm, B.C. Tree Fruits, also had a major shakeup two weeks ago, when the board of directors chose to terminate both CEO Gary Scheik and Operations manager Rod Vint. Alan Tyabji, who took over as CEO immediately, has already begun making some changes in structure, and said he is reviewing other plans that were instigated by his predecessor.
Changes include setting up a southern region of the co-op, which has its head office in Kelowna. Dennis Fleming, who was in charge of quality in the Kelowna facility, is now working as senior manager in Oliver, to provide someone South Okanagan growers can connect with directly and locally.
As well, Tyabji said a decision has been made to upgrade the Oliver cherry line, with new equipment and increased capacity, so that will become the co-op’s main cherry facility, eventually exceeding Kelowna in both modernity and capacity.
And there’ll be a more aggressive cherry export program, said Tyabji. During the past cherry season, some South Okanagan cherry growers chose to leave the fruit on the trees rather than accept the below-cost price cherries were bringing, caused by weak sales and storm damage in some areas.
Tyabji is also reviewing a number of properties owned by the co-op in communities like Naramata, Summerland and the north end of Kelowna, which have been up for sale because they’re no longer being used or they need to be updated, looking at whether all of them will stay on the market.
Some, like the waterfront property in downtown Naramata, won’t change, but overall the plan for the future of co-op facilities is being re-examined, he said.