B.C. Tree Fruitsmarks 75 years as the industry’s sales agency. By Judie Steeves
his is a significant year for the orchard industry in the Okanagan as B.C. Tree Fruits celebrates its 75th anniversary. At a birthday celebration held this summer at the Orchard Industry Museum in the historic Laurel Building featuring industry leaders and local politicians and dignitaries, Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd pointed out that increasing interest on the part of consumers in where their food is grown is a good fit with the marketing aims of the local industry.
“We do grow the best in the world. We should celebrate that and continue to grow that success,” she commented.
CEO Gary Schieck told those assembled that the distinctive green leaf that brands fruit from the co- operative as B.C.-grown has become familiar around the world. It’s a pretty significant industry in terms of the economic well-being of this valley, he noted.
Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative president Jim Elliot talked about the industry’s history.
It was nearly a century ago that growers made the decision that central selling of the crop would be to their advantage and B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. was incorporated on July 21,1936.
Although commercial production of tree fruit began in the valley in the 1890s, in the early years, independent shippers such as the Kelowna Shippers’ Union and Stirling and Pitcairn did the job.
Export of fruit began with a rail car of fruit headed to the Prairies in 1901, then to Britain two years later. Centralization began in 1908 with formation of the Okanagan Fruit Union, and in 1913, nine packing operations merged under the banner of Okanagan United Growers. Between 1904 and 1913, hundreds
of acres of grazing land, grain fields and hay flats were planted to orchards, turning the landscape of the valley from brown in summer, to green, with irrigation.
In the 1920s, those plantings began to mature, requiring construction of dozens of packinghouses and formation of numerous sales agencies. In 1920, the apple crop was 1.3 million boxes, while in 1921, it was over 2.7 million boxes. Three years later, Associated Growers of B.C. formed, representing about 2,700 growers and about 85 per cent of the crop.
However, in the 1930s, low grower returns accompanied the Great Depression and growers went on strike, and coined the phrase “A cent a pound or on the ground.”
Industry and government worked together toward development of central selling for the country’s agricultural products and in the Okanagan, BCTF was born.
In 1939, the B.C. Fruit Board designated BCTF as its sole selling agency, under the powers of the Natural Products Marketing Act.
Three years ago, the four major packinghouses in the valley merged to form the OTFC, which ships most of the apples grown in the valley and markets them through the BCTF.
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British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall 2011 17
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