Kelowna orchardist re-elected as BCFGA president

Fred Steele will serve another term as president of the fruit growers after beating back a challenge from Jeet Dukhia.

Fred Steele

Kelowna orchardist Fred Steele has been re-elected for another term as president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association.

Steele, who was being challenged by North Okanagan fruit grower Jeet Dukhia, said he was relieved that the campaign was over.

“It starts about mid-November and continues until the convention vote. It’s about seven weeks of mayhem,” Steele said. “You have to get organized, find out where your support is or might be, figure those things out before you decide whether or not to take a run at it.”

Steele said he expected a close election and that Dukhia ran a strong campaign.

“I think this is the third time he and I have run against each other now. He ran a good, tough campaign and I respect that,” Steele said.

Looking forward, Steele says the fruit growing industry faces a more optimistic future in the short-term after many years of hard times for orchardists across the Okanagan Valley.

“Last year was the first time in 32 years that our industry didn’t shrink, which says someone has confidence about something or that (downward trend) would have continued,” Steele said.

That optimism, he says, is a combination of many factors, starting with successful inroads being made for selling premium cherries and apples to South Asian markets.

He says finding financial support from provincial and federal government agencies for such things as replanting and crop insurance are an easier sell when the BCFGA is bringing an optimistic message to the table.

“If you keep talking about how everyone is going broke and the world is coming to an end, those government agencies start looking to other groups to help them out instead,” he said.

“They listen more when you come to them from a more positive direction.”

Steele said he was hesitant to call the Okanagan fruit growers completely unified, as there remains a streak of independence evident among many local growers.

“In some areas we are unified, and some areas we are not,” he said. “But it’s important for the whole industry to come together and act as leaders.”

Steele said competition should always be welcomed among growers, but sometimes the industry needs to stand together to present a unified voice when advocating for support of the industry.

In his speech to the BFGA members gathered at the Ramada Hotel convention room in Kelowna on Saturday, Steele described the BCFGA president’s position as one that requires patience, vision, diplomacy and optimism.

“You have to pick your fights, know when to stick your feet in the mud and when to back off. You need to have good judgement,” he said.

“As an industry, we need to come together to find common interest solutions.”

Also elected to the executive, all by acclamation, were vice-president Pinder Dhaliwal, north district representatives Sukhev Goraya, Surjit Nagra and Tony Nijjar, and south district representatives Ravinder Bains, Sukhdeep Brar and Peter Simonsen.