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Belt tightened at PICO

Measures taken to reducemanagement costs include Carlson stepping in as interim boss.

By Judie Steeves T

he Plant Improvement Company is doing more with less.

In a continuation of its evolution

over the past decade or so, PICO is now being run, temporarily, by the former chairman of its board of directors, Summerland grower Keith Carlson, who has been with the industry-owned company for the past 14 years. It was a cost-cuttingmove that

includes sharing accountant services with its parent organization, the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, because of the BCFGA board’s contention that management costs at PICO were too high, explains Carlson. There was simply no other choice

available, no one else who was familiar with PICO’s partners around the world as well as with the grower community, he adds. It’smeant Carlson has had to rely

on his wife Jan to look after the human resources in his own orchard and packing plant, while his daughter runs the orchard with his son-in-law, the other daughter runs the office when not teaching, and the boyfriend runs the packinghouse. (See related story on page 18.) Good returning workers and a light

crop this year have helped keep everything humming without him. Carlson points out that Canada is

tops in the world in terms of new varieties of cherries and the Ambrosia apple is a world leader amongst new apple varieties. All are commercialized by PICO,

with royalties collected for disbursement to owners, whether private or government (varieties developed at the Pacific Agri-food Research Centre at Summerland). A portion of those royalties goes to


PICO, which in turn putsmost of that into tree fruit research into new varieties, pest and disease issues and fruit growing and handling research. Withmassive federal government

cutbacks in funding for agricultural research in recent years, industry is now required to pick up half the tab in order to apply formatching funds fromthe federal Developing Innovative Agri-Products programto continue research projects. For the tree fruit industry, 85 per

cent of themoney that constitutes industry’s contribution comes from PICO, says Carlson. “The lion’s share of research will be

paid through what PICO can accomplish.Most of our income is fromcommercialization of international varieties and I don’t see that changing,” he comments. During the past 15 years PICO has

successfully commercializedmany new varieties, a process that has involved trust with the growers and with companies around the world, he notes. Often part of the agreement with

growers purchasing new varieties are restrictions on the amount of acreage that can be planted in different regions, in order to keep the price of the resulting fruit at an economically- viable level. Thatmeans it’s necessary to verify

what’s been planted where. Although PICO has a general rule

that Canadian varieties aremade available to all Canadian growers without box royalties, elsewhere such royalties are generally part of the

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall 2013

agreement. In future, Carlson

believes it will need to do a better job of ensuring that verification is carried out, since protection of varieties is part of itsmandate. He suspects there

are growers with Ambrosia in the ground when they shouldn’t have it, and ultimately PICO will have to take a grower to court to correct the

situation. Unfortunately, he says Canada

doesn’t have legislation under the best option of the international Union for Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV), so PICO can’t enter an orchard or inspect fruit coming froman orchard to prove an orchardist is growing Ambrosia when they’re not licensed to do so. Instead, the organization will have

to find someone to witness against the offending orchardist, he said. Legislation tightening up rules for

enforcing UPOV restrictions has been before theHouse of Commons several times, but as yet it hasn’tmade it to the top of the heap to be voted on, he said. PICO also handles funds for Ontario

and Quebec growers, and grower testing for research is going on in both those provinces as well. Representatives fromthose provinces sit on the PICO board. Three years ago, PICO received $2.3

million in federal research funding for work on new apple and cherry varieties and other tree fruit research, and for commercializing new varieties. This July, a further $3.2million in

Growing Forward II funds were announced to continue that work for the next five years. That will help fund not only the

breeding program, but also research into apple storage characteristics for new varieties, evaluation of cherry handling issues, work on replant issues, research into control of new pests and diseases and consumer research.

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