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Kelowna's Fred Steel announces bid for BCFGA presidency

Fred Steele is taking another run at the presidency of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association.

Steele, a 67-year-old Glenmore area orchardist who has has twice served as a vice-president of the BCFGA and who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2012, made the announcement Friday morning.

He will challenge incumbent Jeet Dukhia at next week's 125th annual general meeting of the associtaion in Kelowna.

Steele lost his last bid to Kirpal Boparai in 2012. Boparai's term was cut short in the December 2012 when he quit after he was expelled by the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative for failing to live up to the terms of his contract and shipping his apples to an independent packer instead of the co-op he was a member of.

Boparai was replaced by Dukhia who was subsequently elected president last year.

Steele said he is running for the BCFGA's top job because he feels the organization is not being heard by government, in part because it does not have a plan and appears to him to have "lost its way."

He said he has not seen a strategic plan for the organization in the last two years.

"Without a plan or a vision, if you go to government and say we want to partner with you but we don't have a plan, that creates problems," said Steele.

"We need a new approach and we need a plan beyond simply wanting something."

According to Steele membership in the BCFGA has dropped from more than 800 growers a few years ago to around 500 now. So he feels a better job has to be done to reach out to disaffected growers to try  to lure them back into the fold.

Some local growers have responded to increased efforts of late from independent and out of province packing house looking for fruit from this area.

Stressing he is not attacking Dukhia for his leadership over the last 18 months, Steele said he does feel changes are needed to the direction the association is moving in.

"We need to be heard and seen—not necessarily louder but smarter."

Citing problems with crop insurance programs and replant programs, Steele offered himself up as an experienced hand that can help redirect the growers association. But he added it will take the combined effort of all BCFGA members to make that happen.

The BCFGA's best role is when it advocates for others like the packing houses, as well as for growers, he said.

The election of the next BCFGA president will take place during the 125th AGM on Feb. 15.

 

 

 

 

 

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