What a week it was, the snow we were expecting was bad enough, but the accumulations we were not expecting were even worse for many reasons.
This was a week planned months in advance for the BC Fruit Growers Convention. The roads caused many growers from the North to turn back. The friend I was with and I contemplated the same but a little ice made it an adventure.
Many were in a negative mood with prices down and costs going up. Before we sink into a depression here I thought it would be interesting to look back and remember, worse things have happened.
The BC Tree Fruit Industry actually started in the Lower Mainland. The first Board of Directors did not have a single farmer on it and the Mayor of Vancouver was President. The Board was made up of land speculators. The first shipment of apples went from Chilliwack to Winnipeg around the same time in 1889
The sheer grit of the BCFGA is its strength. Near death experiences have come and gone but the industry has survived.
Depression when it hit, produced a campaign with the slogan
“A cent a pound or on the Ground” there were severe labor shortages during two world wars. The great freeze in the winter of 1949-50. I remember my uncle and father out in the night keeping the smudge pots going. It was the greatest single action event that nearly destroyed the industry. Farmers were not accepting defeat. Big old mac trees were planted thirty feet apart and vegetables as cash crops were planted up the middle until the fruit yields returned. It was a rough time but the sheer determination of modern pioneers saved themselves.
The Columbia River Treaty was a disaster for the Okanagan Tree Fruit Industry. Here is but one example. Before the treaty both sided of the border produced about 12 million boxes, each. Now Washington produces a hundred and forty million or more and we produce about four million. Washington is mass production and we produce higher quality.
The key to our survival is our ability to adapt to adversity and changing conditions through technology and a willingness to embrace the future, even reluctantly at times. Programs such as SIR (Sterile Insect Release) have ensured our continued success. The foreign labor program SAWP or the seasonal Agriculture Worker Program is a partnership amng three governments Canada, Mexico, Caribbean governments, the workers and employers. This ensures there is an adequate workforce. Here is an educational note SAWP is different from other foreign worker programs as there is far more oversight and stricter audits and that is a good thing. There is the food safety program to ensure security in the food chain and a host of proactive measures taken to ensure the health of the industry.
I know the situation farmers are in but I remind them and you, the cycles of farmer turn on a dime and being a farmer is not for the faint of heart. There will be better days ahead. I know this to be true having been a farmer and a former President of the BCFGA. In the South Okanagan, the tree fruit industry has played a significant role in developing the communities lifestyle. So on these cold winter days if you see a farmer thank them for their service to the community.
I would also like to thank the BCFGA for installing my name in a roll of some great pioneers in the industry when they presented me with a Life Membership in the association.
There are so many who did so much, much more than me but I am grateful for the honor and the trust they gave me during my time as a Board Member and eventually as President.