The past year was a turbulent one for the orchard industry in the Okanagan.
It began with members of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association electing their first East Indian president, despite the fact that an estimated half of the growers have their ethnic roots in that culture.
The 123-year-old organization elected Kelowna’s Kirpal Boparai at its January convention over Kelowna orchardist Fred Steele, who was the incumbent vice-president.
Incumbent president Joe Sardinha did not run for election, opting to retire from the executive after 11 years, seven of them in the top post.
Elected vice-president was Vernon grower Jeet Dukhia, a newcomer to the long-time lobby group’s executive.
In their speeches to members leading up to the election, both men called on government to help growers out more.
However, in tight fiscal times such as these, when the B.C. government’s repeated mantra is restraint so the province can balance its budget, it was obvious that would be swimming against the current.
Despite that, in the spring, the province did announce a long-awaited extension to the replant program for growers, an assistance program for those interested in investing in modernizing their orchards to increase returns.
But, it was an announcement that had been expected since before the BCFGA election.
Then, in late summer, the main co-op packinghouse, the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative, expelled Boparai 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.
In October, at the annual general meeting of that co-op, one of the 300 or so growers attending proposed a resolution calling on the co-op to stop checking off BCFGA dues from members until the BCFGA removed Boparai from the top post and it was approved.
However, the co-op executive declined to deal with that resolution, and neither organization is required to deal with it.
Boparai only attended two of the four regional grower meetings held throughout the valley in November, but when nominated for re-election to the BCFGA board, he declined, and in December he announced his intent to resign from the top post.
Vice-president Dukhia took over until January’s convention. He has also been nominated by growers for president, as has Steele.
Change has been in the wind for the co-op as well, with two long-time board members rejected in their bids for re-election in favour of newcomers.
It’s the second year in a row that’s happened, so there are a majority of relatively-new faces around the board table.
Then, at the first meeting of the new board, chief executive officer Gary Schieck was replaced by Alan Tyabji.
Several other top executives were also let go, as Tyabji promised a new direction for the co-op, which is an amalgamation of the valley’s four major co-operative packinghouses.
That occurred four years ago. Both Schieck and Tyabji had headed up operations at one of those packinghouses before the amalgamation.
The bright spot in the past year for apple growers was increased prices this year due to a disastrous frost in eastern North America last spring that decimated their crops this fall.