Local growers, 65 in total, attended a meeting in Osoyoos on Monday, Nov. 1 to express their rejection of a proposed apple market commission. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)

Okanagan fruit growers overwhelmingly reject attempt to set up apple market commission

Meetings in Keremeos and Osoyoos met with overwhelming rejection from growers

It is back to the drawing board for the New Tree Fruit Varieties Council after their idea of setting up a marketing commission for apples was met with overwhelming rejection from South Okanagan and Similkameen growers.

In two meetings on Oct. 29 and Nov. 1, growers voiced their opposition to the council’s idea, with 65 orchardists showing up to the Osoyoos meeting.

The commission was proposed by the council as a way of using the funds they have remaining after the terms of their mandate and levy run out next year. It had been the result of a study and polling of packers and growers as to how best to proceed.

Growers at the meeting called for the council to go back to step one, and for the growers to be more involved in figuring out how the council will evolve.

The meeting in Osoyoos was a measured affair, especially compared to the meeting three days earlier in Keremeos which reportedly had become much more heated.

Even still, the Osoyoos meeting saw many pointed questions directed to council representative Jim Campbell.

One of the principal concerns that was expressed was that the study the commission proposal was based around, in particular the fact that the survey of growers had been conducted during the height of activity for the growers and concerns about how much of the data came from BC Tree Fruits and associated growers and packers.

The other large concerns were over what benefit the commission would actually provide given it would have no power to regulate imported apples, such as those from Washington State, Chile, New Zealand and other foreign countries, but would put stiffer restrictions on local growers.

“As far as I see it, I’m not competing against any one here or in B.C.,” said one grower. “I’m competing against Washington.”

Getting the larger retailers to buy the local fruit over cheaper alternatives, and finding places for the fruit that can’t be sold to local markets to go to was something that the growers were interested in seeing.

The growers called for the council to do more to expand their efforts at promoting B.C. Ambrosia Apples into other foreign markets beyond nations such as Vietnam where local growers still end up competing with the mass production capabilities of Washington State.

B.C. Tree Fruits was also brought up repeatedly by the growers, many of whom pointed to the study’s analysis of returns for growers who work with B.C. Tree Fruits as more indicative to issues with the co-op rather than the industry as a whole.

“It may be a packer’s internal problem, if some packer is getting $75 a bin return, why are you pursuing everybody? If they can afford to do everything and still buy land and still send into the same market, if they were getting $75 they would be broke now. Why don’t you go inside and do a third-party audit, 90 per cent it’s their internal problem,” said one grower.

In the end, the overwhelming feedback from the local growers was clear that there is little support to be found if the council had decided to push forward and go to the government to set up the commission.

“It’s clear from the dissent we’ve heard from Osoyoos and Keremeos and from up the valley that this is not the way to go,” said Campbell.

Whether the council will move towards some grower or packer based industry council made up of representatives to voluntarily set standards will be announced and then decided at a later date.

READ MORE: Osoyoos mulls removing angle parking from Main Street

READ MORE: Harvest a mixed bag for Okanagan fruit growers this year

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