There’s a shift in leadership within the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, but there’s a united front when it comes to the future.
Kelowna’s Fred Steele won out over incumbent president Jeet Dukhia, of Vernon, during the association’s convention Saturday.
“I want a replant program for 10-plus years. We have to negotiate that with the government,” said Steele, who is a former vice-president.
“They say they are committed to it but there’s no commitment until there is a signature.”
While disappointed that he was not re-elected, Dukhia says he remains committed to the BCFGA.
“I am very optimistic about the sector,” said Dukhia, who farms in the BX.
Dukhia says a replant program will open up new markets for growers and create on-farm efficiencies and there have been numerous discussions with Victoria.
“All of the hard work has been done and the foundations made,” he said.
According to many growers, five to 10 per cent of their orchards must be replanted each year to address rot and keep pace with market demand for new varieties.
Government funding only covers a portion of farmer’s total cost of replant.
Victoria came forward with $2 million for replant in 2011 but steady demand outstripped available money.
Besides replant, other priority issues for Steele are ensuring grower access to tree stock and improvements to insurance when weather conditions destroy crops.
He also believes there is a need to constantly remind residents, the media and elected officials of the importance the fruit sector plays in the Okanagan economically and socially.
“We have to do a better job of promoting ourselves,” said Steele.
“If we have good communications with the public, the government is apt to be listening.”
Along with Steele, the BCFGA executive includes vice-president Bhupinder Dhaliwal of Oliver.
— with files from Kelowna Capital News reporter Jennifer Smith