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FORMATION OF B.C. CHERRY COUNCIL EXPECTED TO BE APPROVED SOON BY MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE LETNICK
Cherry growers in and around Osoyoos and across the Okanagan Valley are close to forming their own cherry council, with the goal to bring Okanagan Valley cherries across Canada and to markets around the world.
Before a packed house of more than 120 cherry growers, packers and industry leaders at the Oliver Elks Hall last Wednesday, Christine Dendy, chair of the Okanagan Kootenay Cherry Growers Association (OKCGA) said the formation of a B.C. Cherry Council is now in the hands of B.C. Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick.
Letnick is expected to give his approval within the next couple of weeks, said Dendy.
“The challenge is continued market growth … around the world,” said Dendy.
While the OKCGA and B.C. Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA) have done a good job of representing the needs and concerns of the cherry industry in the Okanagan Valley for many years, the time has come to form a B.C. Cherry Council as competition from American producers increases and access to expanding markets around the world becomes more important, said Dendy.
“Our B.C. cherry industry has grown rapidly and there are huge challenges ahead,” she said. “We need a broader-based institution to work on promotion of our industry and represent us in market development and market access issues.
“The OKCGA has been able to do a lot for the industry in the past 15 years, particularly in research, but we need to be able to do a lot more. The 2012 harvest was very difficult with a lot of disappointments. The shortage of fruit in eastern Canada and the United States did not result in stronger market prices, American imports were as high as ever, local markets were confused and even short of fruit at times, the rush of interest from China turned into confusion and disappointment, with mixed quality and standards compounding problems in many markets.”
The importance of securing a direct trade agreement to ship B.C. cherries to China as production increases would be one of the most important tasks of the new council once approval is granted, said Dendy.
If the council is approved, the activities of the OKCGA will be rolled into the council and the research work formerly done by the association will be assumed by a new research committee.
The focus of the B.C. Cherry Council will be much broader than the OKCGA with increased focus on foreign market access, market development and promotions both domestically and abroad and education to improve cherry quality will become a priority, she said.
The BCFGA will continue its role of working on broad industry issues and policy with the provincial and federal government.
“A council would work proactively with government, but is not a political or lobbying role,” said Dendy. “The two organizations should complement each other and work well together.”
For the council to become a reality, the proposal needs approval by Letnick and a cherry grower vote with enough positive response (66 per cent approval) that the minister is confident a council has the support of the industry, she said.
Voting by cherry producers is expected to begin soon and wrap up before the end of March.
“If the proposal is passed, an interim council will be established as soon as possible … to be in place before the 2013 harvest,” she said.
The council will have eight directors elected by the registered cherry growers. The term will be for two years. The council will have sub-committees which will concentrate on specific aspects such as market access and trade, promotion and research and will include members who are growers, packers, consultants and researchers to help share the load and broaden knowledge, she said.
The provincial raspberry, blueberry, strawberry and wine grape industries have formed provincial councils with excellent results in expanding business and international markets, said Dendy.
If the council becomes reality, an annual levy would be charged based on acreage planted to cherries each year. The likely rate will be $50 per acre.
This would raise approximately $150,000 in revenue as there are 3,000 acres used specifically for cherries in B.C., she said.
The provincial government would provide approximately $200,000 in matching grants and funding, giving the new council a budget in the area of $350,000, she said.
“Levies would be collected from growers and would be payable at the end of each cherry harvest season or could be collected through the packers or brokers if they wish,” she said. “The levies would be mandatory to ensure the cost of running the council is born fairly by everyone who benefits.”
Voting within the council on key decisions would involve “weighted voting” with each cherry orchard holding getting one vote for two acres or more and an additional vote for each increment of up to five acres after that. For example, an individual, partnership or corporation holding with 23 acres of cherries (owned or leased) qualifies for five votes, while three acres qualifies as one vote. There will be a maximum cap so that no single operation can exceed five per cent of the total industry vote.
For more information, visit www.bccherry.com or contact Erin Carlson at 250-488-7448.