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Kelowna: Failure on vote for apple levy the result of poor communication

Fred Steele, newly elected president of the B.C. Fruit Growers
Fred Steele, newly elected president of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association, says orchardists likely didn't fully understand the ramifications of the vote to create an Apple Research and Promotion Agency.
— image credit: Contributed

Communication errors are likely at the root of a confusing vote B.C. orchardists turned in this winter, dousing plans for an Apple Research and Promotion Agency in B.C.

From November to mid-February, growers were given mailed ballots and asked to vote on whether to accept a levy of $1.60 per apple bin to establish the agency, which could then join counterparts in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to collect levies from all imported apples and fund national promotion efforts highlighting the benefits of apples.

“I think people just didn’t understand some of the ramifications of what was being proposed,” said Fred Steele, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association and an apple orchardist.

Officially, the vote was deemed a draw. While the mandated minimum of 42 per cent of growers did turn in a ballot, the results were split 50/50 for and against establishing the new agency. Ultimately, the BCFGA decided it could not proceed.

Ballots cast were tracked throughout the process and the votes collected earlier from those attending meetings and responding to the mail-out were just as divided as those who filed last minute at the BCFGA convention mid-February.

For apple associations in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, it’s not good news.

“We’re disappointed in the vote because it means we can’t have a national research and promotion agency,” said Cathy McKay, Ontario Apple Growers research chairperson. “…We’re hoping that the British Columbia growers will hold another vote, possibly when more information is available.”

In order for counterpart associations to successfully lobby the federal government for a national agency and draw funds from an import levy on international fruit, every growing province must establish a levy.

In Ontario, a $25-an-acre levy has been in place for years. It’s mandatory for all farms over 10 acres and the proceeds already go to research and promotion.

The monthly levy supports everything from graduate student research on resistant codling moth to the Okanagan Plant Improvement Corporation. The extra money from an import levy could have helped.

“(The other associations) were concerned that the growers weren’t aware that they are leaving a million dollars behind in import levies in not approving it,” said Glen Lucas, BCFGA manager.

He has been asked to view the issue as alive and to keep working on it.

In retrospect, Lucas said the BCFGA executive realizes growers likely didn’t understand the extend to which government was in support of the plan.

He said the leadership now recognizes that presenting it in isolation, rather than as a component of a long-range plan for the industry, was likely a mistake.

“Without connecting it to other organizations and to future goals, I think growers had uncertainty about it,” he said.

A bin of apples is minimally worth 100 times what the levy was to take, at $160 a bin, although the BCFGA wants to see most varietals receive an average of $240 a bin.

Promoting apples in general, as opposed to marketing different varietals, is seen as the best approach to boosting sales nationwide.

This would mean picking up on research like the apple-a-day study published out of Ohio State University last month, which found eating just one apple a day for four weeks lowered blood levels of oxidized LDL, or bad cholesterol, by 40 per cent.

It seems not all antioxidants are  equal and the particular antioxidants in apples have a profound effect on artery health.

“That’s a message to get out there right now and the U.S. apple (industry) is doing that to some extent. I think they need to do a better job and we need to get started,” said Lucas.

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