Resignation forces grower into spotlight

Jeet Dukhia took on duties as president after Kelowna grower Kirpal Boparai resigned Monday

A Vernon orchardist has unexpectedly found himself leading the B.C. Fruit Growers Association.

Jeet Dukhia took on duties as president after Kelowna grower Kirpal Boparai resigned Monday.

““I hope to stabilize the association after a period of turbulence and uncertainty in the industry,” said Dukhia, who was vice-president.

Boparai took on duties as president last January but he became a lightning rod for controversy.

He was kicked out of the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative because he did not conform to contract terms.

In October, members attending the co-op’s annual general meeting approved a resolution calling for Boparai to be removed from his BCFGA post.

Dukhia, though, stands by Boparai.

“He was doing a good job as president. He wanted to work for the growers and he knows the struggles growers are going through,” said Dukhia.

In a release, Boparai stated that he pursued a more aggressive approach with government and other industry players while president.

“I think that something had to be done differently from before, and my main concern is that the apple producers get back on their feet after many years of dismal returns for their efforts,” he said.

Dukhia has already established some goals now that he is president.

“I want to approach government for programs like replant,” he said.

“If there are any problems between the BCFGA and the co-op, I want to heal that. I have no doubts with the co-op at all.”

Both Dukhia and Kelowna’s Fred Steele have been nominated to run for president at the Jan. 19 annual general meeting.

“I have sat back quietly for the past year watching the BCFGA embroiled in controversy and unfortunately much of it has in my opinion damaged our reputation,” said Steele, who was vice-president and lost to Boparai in his bid for president.

“What the organization needs is a steady experienced hand to improve relations with those we are in constant contact with. In my view, the president must be a catalyst for generating a renewed interest in the organization by building a new relationship with the members and especially with the executive.”