Awatch opened a conversation and a series of doors to keep the dreamalive for a national tree fruit rejuvenation program.


he word perseverance is truly the word for ‘never give up’. The story I am about to tell you

started almost two years ago in January. when the BCFGA made its annual trip to Ottawa to press for a ‘bare ground’ tree planting program.

We were there for other business related to Canadian Horticulture Council matters. We decided to take a different tack, to avoid the one- word answer we got repeatedly for 20 years: “No”.

This meeting would be with the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture. We were proposing a B.C. program. We had 20 minutes, not much time to make a near billion-dollar pitch.

No one knows what a conversation will turn on that might well change the direction. The Parliamentary Secretary didn't speak English and I didn't speak French. We took a CHC staffer who interpreted for us. As I reached out to take a piece of paper being handed to me, he noticed I was wearing a Montreal Canadiens watch. He said “Habs, Habs?” I answered yes. Through the interpreter he asked how long I had been a Habs fan. I told him about 65 years. We had something in common, so much so we spent the first few minutes talking about the old days of hockey, and now we truly engaged in the conversation. We then set to the business of planting trees. The meeting went on longer than our MP Stephen Fuhr expected, because we made a connection.

The secretary wanted a photo op and he wanted to talk agriculture. Turns out he is a dairy farmer from somewhere east of Montreal, and he suggested a national approach to our program would be the best opportunity. A watch opened a conversation and a series of doors that have kept the dream

16 British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall-Winter 2017

By Fred Steele Let me tell you a positive story

alive for a national tree fruit rejuvenation program. We found the best way to promote the program, and we found out who we should talk to and how to present it to different ministries. The first step was to have all apple- producing provinces

participate and support a proposal: B.C., Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Over the course of last year we had three votes supporting the proposal and all regions remain committed. So what does the proposal contain? It would be too long to go step-by-step here, so I will provide an overview. The aim of the program would be to increase the volume of apple production in Canada by 25 per cent. Canada imports 50 per cent of its apple consumption and we can replace some of that.

A farmer would seek a loan to plant bare-ground acreage (in Ontario, which does not have a replant program, replant would be permitted). There would be no payments of principal or interest for five years. In year six the first interest payment is to be made. Financial institutions, such as Farm Credit Canada, have indicated a willingness to postpone principal payments for this period. Also part of the program is packinghouse infrastructure — an interest-free loan for capital improvements to packinghouses. If we generate new production, we will need new packing capacity. Both elements of the program (planting and packing)

support environmental improvements (reduced pesticide, more efficient water use, more efficient energy use) and innovation/competitiveness. This program would include financial institutions, and several government ministries — agriculture and finance, as well as innovation and economic development.

So where are we now in the process? The BCFGA has ensured that local MPs from all political parties are informed of the proposal. We have talked to some players in the financial realm and officials from various ministries within the federal government.

Recently, we met with agriculture minister Lawrence Macaulay and we continue to feel positive about the proposal. In addition, we will appear before the federal finance committee later this year.

Other provincial apple associations likewise are promoting the program. This is a long process. We will continue to pursue it with all the facts and enthusiasm required. There is one ingredient in all interaction with others to get a major project off the drawing board and into the realm of reality. It is the chemistry between people and the enthusiasm to benefit not only our region, but all apple-producing regions and the economy of Canada that brings a positive initial reaction.

It started with a Montreal Habs wrist watch, something that differentiated this discussion from all the other discussions the parliamentary secretary had that day two years ago.

— Fred Steele is President of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

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