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New cherry industry council in the works

Grower vote nextmajor step as efforts continue to strenghten production andmarket returns.

By Judie Steeves R

apid growth in B.C.’s cherry industry means there is an urgent need to open new trade markets to accept a burgeoning crop.

With that in mind, B.C. cherry brokers, packers and growers met in December to talk about the critical challenges facing the industry and about how it can be organized better to improve production and market returns in future, explains Christine Dendy, president of the Okanagan Kootenay Cherry Growers Association. Those at the meeting agreed to form a B.C. Cherry Industry Development steering committee to begin work immediately on market access issues on behalf of industry and to develop a proposal for growers to vote on forming a B.C. Cherry Council.

Agriculture minister Norm Letnick has given preliminary approval, but all cherry growers will have to vote on the proposal before he will be asked for formal approval. Such a council could levy a per-acre fee on all cherry growers to establish a fund for developing market access in foreign countries, market development and promotion and education as well as research.

The intent is to get a council in place prior to this year’s harvest, said Dendy.

The council would have eight directors elected by registered cherry growers who would vote on the same weighted basis as the referendum to form a council.

Cherry orchardists with more than two acres would be registered to vote, while those with less can register voluntarily.

Orchard owners would get one vote for up to five registered acres and a vote for each increment of up to five acres after that. So, a 23-acre cherry orchard would qualify for five votes. A cap would ensure the influence of no single operation could exceed five per cent of the total industry vote. With leased acreage the vote would go to the lessee. Sub-committees would concentrate on such issues as market access, trade, promotion and research and would include directors as well as others such as packers, brokers, consultants and researchers.

Such councils are formed under the Farming and Fisheries Act and the regulations have to be reviewed and renewed every five years, with a vote.

“This sunset clause helps ensure the council will be 14


Christine Dendy on the production line at her family’s cherry operation in Kelowna.

accountable and responsive to industry’s needs,” explained Dendy.

Similar agricultural councils already exist, including the B.C. Wine Grape Council, B.C. Variety Development Council, as well as blueberry and raspberry councils. Dendy said it’s likely growers would be asked to contribute about $50 an acre, but the operating budget and levies would be determined by the council’s elected board. Levies would be collected prior to harvest each year and would be payable at the end of each harvest. They could also be collected through packers or brokers.

Such levies ensure everyone who benefits pays, she noted. The OKCGA would dissolve into the new council and the research work formerly done by it will be assumed by a research committee of the council, said Dendy. At present there is no single trade association that represents all of B.C.’s cherry growers, so it’s not even known just what the industry’s size is.

However, Dendy estimated the 450 or so cherry growers in the province harvested in the region of $45 million worth of fruit last year.

About two-thirds of current production is already exported, with half of that making its way to Asian markets, she figures. Two sub-committees of the steering committee were formed and began work immediately.

David Geen of Coral Beach Farms in Lake Country heads up the market access committee (see story next page) while Greg Norton of Oliver heads up the council development sub- committee.

If the rapidly-expanding cherry industry is to survive, new markets must be found, and the industry must work together to do that, said Dendy.

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2013

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