Institution of the Interior
The Evolving Role of the BCFGA 1899-1939
farmer is the only part of modern industry (besides art)
in which you have individual production
is not individual at all. It is a group problem. You cannot
market without a distinct consideration of what all the
other producers are doing at the same time
can be done sanely only on a collective basis and through
organized effort. 1
before the first orchard had been planted in the interior, growers
subscribed to the notion that individual rights were paramount
to the health of the industry. This was a prescription that had
been born of the coastal environment within which the majority
of growers operated. The increasing specialization of the Okanagan
as a tree-fruit district, however, challenged this notion as many
orchards were being created within areas of marginal capacity
far removed from any major market. In this new environment, individualism
allowed inequalities in marketing, created wholly by chance, to
be exploited to the detriment of the entire industry. There was
nothing to prevent a grower or shipper who was determined to sell
quickly to the markets from undermining the prices for everyone.
The untenable nature of continued independent marketing practices
lay in the under-capitalization of numerous individuals attempting
to operate an orchard. Unlike growers on the coast, many had invested
a small fortune to establish themselves, and were poorly positioned
to weather any volatility in returns. Some attempted to stabilize
prices and improve the viability of the orchard unit through co-operatively
based marketing organizations, but all these schemes were to fail
due to one underlying weakness. The high costs associated with
collective marketing created an incentive for a small minority
to stay outside of any scheme. This perpetuated a cycle of competition
in which growers raced to dispose of their highly perishable crop
in as short a period as possible. As individual action in marketing
increasingly came to be recognized as the root of the economic
turmoil, talk of compulsory co-operation began to be voiced. The
most prominent actor in this debate would prove to be the provincial
government. Its direct involvement in the extension of the orchard
landscape south of Penticton increased the stakes for all regions
of the province in seeing the Okanagan succeed as a fruit district.
By underwriting the South Okanagan Lands Project, a large amount
of public money was committed to irrigation projects as an exercise
in province-building. The inability of growers to implement a
marketing scheme capable of stabilizing this expanded, and often-fragmented,
orchard landscape by 1927 jeopardized the entire initiative. In
the quest for stability, the BCFGA would be transformed both by
growers and provincial legislation into a highly centralized,
co-operative marketing organization, and an important component
of public policy in the region.
of the Okanagan as the focal point of fruit production in the
province proved to be a very tumultuous affair. Tensions between
the systems favoured by interior and coastal growers were exposed,
resulting in the collapse of four separate marketing agencies,
a precipitous decline in support for the BCFGA, and an eventual
schism based on regional fault lines.2
An important contributory cause in this process was the relatively
benign nature of the Fraser Valley's climate and landscape, which
had shaped the early structures of the fruit industry. Average
annual precipitation rates of fifty to seventy inches negated
irrigation costs that other fruit districts incurred, while geography
provided an ease of access to a major market not reproducible
elsewhere in the province.3
That the urban market of Vancouver could absorb most production
allowed growers to pursue the marketing of their crops in a highly
decentralized system dominated by producer unions and local associations.
The relatively laissez-faire attitude towards marketing issues
that this engendered coloured the two attempts at co-operative
marketing launched by the BCFGA prior to 1910. Selling agencies
were intended to stand alone, completely separate from constituent
organizations, competing with independent grower-shippers and
even other co-operatives. In the event of a market glut, however,
the reality remained that competition to dispose of the crop inevitably
caused prices to crash, and diminished returns. It seemed apparent
that as long as the majority of growers operated in a natural
environment that did not impose undue hardships upon production,
collective marketing initiatives would be ineffectual, and largely
coastal assumptions about production and marketing, epitomized
by the early BCFGA, proved wholly incongruent with the daily experiences
of growers in Kelowna or Vernon. Three major freezes between 1897
and 1907, and a growing realization that the soil under many orchards
might not be suitable for agriculture, made Okanagan orchardists
question what was needed to make a decent living.4
The BCFGA's creeping marginalization in the interior can be traced
to its support for an ethos of individualism that exacerbated
the reliance on shoddy irrigation systems, or the logistics of
transporting fruit out of a mountain valley to markets hundreds
or thousands of kilometers away. What was required was a more
co-ordinated and disciplined form of market co-operation. Centralization
offered advantages in handling, packaging, selling and stability
necessary in the nurturing of the orchard landscape. For fifteen
years, interior growers attempted to sustain two models of grower-shipper
co-operatives built around a loose form of central selling and
distribution.5 They were
ultimately to fail through their inability to neutralize private
shippers and packers operating in the local market. By catering
to individuals who had forsaken the collective marketing ventures,
and by servicing the higher-quality orchards, these independents
were able to obtain a significant share of the crop, continuing
the cycle of lowering returns by disposing of fruit in an unco-ordinated
the inroads that collective marketing had achieved by 1923 - the
Okanagan's share of the Prairie market increased from thirty-nine
percent in 1913 to eighty-two percent - grower loyalty to these
ventures was proving to be a cyclical phenomenon, easier in times
of adversity, and more difficult in periods of prosperity.7
As the overall number of growers in the valley continued to increase
through the 1920s, the actions of those who opted to sell independently,
outside of a co-operative, held implications for the livelihood
of many people.8 The crux
of the problem was brought home by a San Francisco lawyer, Aaron
Sapiro, who had an extensive background in the trials of California
fruit growers, Kentucky tobacco farmers, Prairie grain farmers,
and others in their quests for some form of orderly marketing.
He traveled through the valley in early 1923 (months before his
famous visit to the Prairies in August), on a tour designed to
bring a broader awareness to Okanagan growers on their ability
to influence their terms of trade through co-operative organization.
The "California model" that Sapiro advocated could not
have been more ideally suited to this task as it legitimized and
facilitated the centralizing trends that had been occurring since
1913. In particular, he encouraged a strong, top-down co-operative
structure, built around professional management, long-term contracts
and direct membership organized upon commodity lines.9
In his speeches, Sapiro upbraided the growers on their recent
track record in marketing. He believed that they "were themselves
to blame for disastrous prices
they themselves broke the
market[, as] shipping apples blindly on consignment was the worst
form of dumping possible."10
Sapiro explained how there had been a point when there were over
forty co-operative organizations among California growers, and
that the smart shippers had simply proceeded to sit back and watch
them break each other.11
He advocated extensive improvements and reforms in merchandizing,
from quality control, standardization, improved packaging, to
regulation of supply.12
In California this had served the dual purpose of extending markets,
while also creating a powerful brand name used to mitigate the
loss of members and volume to independent shippers. As a guarantor
of loyalty, Sapiro also advocated the use of an ironclad, five-year
contract, "more sacred than matrimony," that would bind
growers to the co-operative and be reinforced by a pledge to "never
handle an ounce of stuff for a non-member."13
These were all steps that the industry tried to follow in the
intervening years, but to little avail, as after initial success
growers again began to abandon their organization in favour of
1920s children's cartoon featuring the "Yello-fello"
at the Associated Growers' packinghouse ensuring his apples
are being properly packed.
dilemma with Sapiro's model was that non-members were as likely
to enjoy the benefits of a co-operative's efforts to regulate
supply, without having to shoulder the accompanying costs. The
temptation to leave for the deceptively higher returns offered
by independents was ever-present and fatal to any co-operative
venture. Many who had joined in 1923 had not been ideologically
inclined to support a central selling agency, having only been
lured in by the prospect of better returns.14
When the industry began to falter in the late 1920s, the provincial
government was urged to step in by growers and provide the stability
that they had not been able to achieve on their own. Grower sentiment
on this issue was not far removed from that of other producers
across the Canadian west at this time, or around the world. Some
of the most important new ideas on marketing initiatives such
as compulsory pooling were being advocated by farm groups in Australia,
New Zealand, the United States and even Saskatchewan following
the dissolution of the Wheat Board in 1920.15
Okanagan growers' request for a similar measure marked the commencement
of a decade-long legal odyssey regarding the validity of compulsory
marketing legislation, a journey that would see the BCFGA develop
into an adjunct of public policy.
1927 the provincial government had come to the conclusion that
the success of one of its major, post-war policy objectives had
become dependent on the ability of fruit growers to find a durable
model for marketing their produce. A decade earlier, John Oliver,
the "Farmer Premier," had outlined to the province,
and country, his vision of reincorporating discharged soldiers
into society. A farmer himself, Oliver believed an agricultural
way of life was the cornerstone to a healthy and prosperous society,
and the foundation upon which to develop British Columbia.16
As a policy objective, soldier settlement was to be a two-pronged
strategy - made more difficult by the province's rugged terrain.
With farmland being at a premium, the provincial government was
forced into expensive reclamation projects in order to find the
land-base necessary for the construction of its agricultural communities.
One such area was the Osoyoos Territory south of Penticton, encompassing
some of the driest, most desert-like sections of the province.
The use of irrigation works would come to be essential to the
success of any agricultural community established within the Lands
Project. In developing a land-use plan for the south, the provincial
government had recourse to twenty years of experimentation by
private developers, and a catalogue of mistakes that had been
perpetrated in erecting the early orchard landscape. Accordingly,
the surveying of individual orchard plots within the Lands Project
was to be conducted in a far more comprehensive and orderly manner.
Acreages were to be self-sufficient and capable of supporting
a family unit. The reliable delivery of water to orchards had
also emerged as a serious issue in the 1920s as the wooden canals
built by the land companies were proving to be of a sub-standard
quality and in need of repair or replacement. In response, the
Lands Project was to be equipped with a solid, concrete-lined
ditch capable of carrying a high enough volume of water to meet
the needs of all growers. Unfortunately, despite these concerted
efforts to avoid past mistakes, the provincial government unwittingly
adopted familiar assumptions about the ability to re-order the
landscape without due regard to the physical restrictions of the
the scale of the undertaking and the massive amounts of public
capital that would be expended upon it, those overseeing the Lands
Project lacked some very basic information regarding the suitability
of local conditions to the proposed application. Irrigation systems
and orchard subdivisions were plotted without the use of soil
tests or an adequate knowledge of precipitation levels in the
area.17 A Manager for
the Lands Project at the time later explained how this unfamiliarity
with the landscape resulted in stretches of canal being built
upon a clay foundation.
the spring and summer this clay became saturated and, in
one case, ninety feet of canal went out leaving a vertical
wall which had to be bridged by a trestle. For some miles,
where the clay became saturated and very low winter temperatures
were encountered, the ground froze solidly. In so doing
the clay expanded heaving panels, throwing up the bottom,
and cracking the concrete, until, in places, it resembled
a patchwork quilt. 18
other cases, the combination of orchard location and capacity
of the irrigation network simply proved to be inadequate to allow
the water requirements of growers to be met. The canals had been
designed to carry 2.5 acre-feet for 120 days, an amount which
was thought to be ample for irrigation needs, but ended up not
being able to water the area for which it was designed because
local soil conditions drained the moisture away from the trees.19
These conditions ultimately led to a stratification of growers
as the spread in orchard values within the Lands Project reflected
the varying degrees of soil, precipitation, and temperature ratings
in any given location.20
Those on more marginal plots were less able to better their position,
and would be more prone to the vagaries of the market then their
better-placed neighbours. Despite the best of intentions, government
participation in the extension of the orchard landscape had only
introduced more producers into a region that was already experiencing
difficulties in disposing of the crop.
contributing factor encouraging the provincial government to step
in and play a more active role in the marketing of Okanagan fruit
was growing questioning of the soundness of its investment in
the valley. By 1927, the estimated cost of starting up the Lands
Project had been determined to be three million dollars, while
the government also found itself responsible for another $2.3
million in loans to regional Water Districts.21
This later debt had resulted from a 1914 transition in water rights
maintenance from a "company system" to public control.22
When Water Districts assumed control over irrigation works from
the land companies, it became apparent that they lacked the funds
necessary to carry out repairs. An amendment to the Water Act
was passed in 1918 that created a special fund in the Treasury
known as the "Conservation Fund" which could be used
for upgrading these systems.23
Unfortunately, the cost of rehabilitating the canals was to be
seriously misjudged, and in 1923 the government was approached
to defer repayments from the districts.24
This process was repeated in the years 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927,
so that by the end of the 1927 fiscal year, the amount owed to
the provincial government was $2,205,792.13 on a fund of $2,300,000.25
The Lands Project also aggravated the inability of northern growers
to begin re-paying loans from the fund, since the government was
offering, as a public debt of gratitude, subsidized rates on land
and water to growers in the south.26
The resulting increases in production south of Penticton made
it increasingly difficult for both ends of the valley to dispose
of the crop in an orderly and equitable manner. With the fruit
industry supporting over 20,000 people,27
and responsible for almost $5.5 million in public debt, the government
held a vested interest in ensuring that this constituency received
the legislation necessary to implement a marketing system.
Produce Marketing Act (1927) was to provide growers the stability
and opportunity to begin contributing to the costs of their own
production that they had been unable to achieve on their own.
The Act had originally begun as a resolution at the 1927 BCFGA
Convention, requesting the provincial government bring in legislation
mandating compulsory co-operation.28
Its implementation would mark a return to prominence in issues
of marketing for the association, not known since the schism between
coastal and interior growers. The Act's requirement that, for
any producer group to petition for government oversight, a seventy-five
percent threshold of support had to be achieved,29
lent itself to the presence of central organization that could
represent growers' interests. As the BCFGA was the only entity
that could legitimately make this claim, it became the forum in
which growers vetted the principles of the Act. By also limiting
the applicability of its regulations to the Interior, the Produce
Marketing Act signified a final step in the evolution of the BCFGA
to an institution of the Okanagan. From 1927 onwards, the Association
would primarily deal with the unique issues surrounding the marketing
of Okanagan fruit.30
proceeding nine years of political turmoil, although covered extensively
elsewhere,31 remain integral
in understanding future events in the industry. The Produce Marketing
Act was assailed from its inception by legal challenges questioning
the authority it bestowed upon a Committee of Direction to levy
indirect taxes upon growers.32
In 1931, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that the province
had overstepped its constitutional bounds and disallowed the Act.
The vacuum in marketing structures that resulted saw the return
on a bushel of apples fall from a five-year average of $1.29 to
$0.87 in 1931/32 and $0.68 in 1932/33.33
To protest their deteriorating position, growers staged a strike
in 1933 vowing to leave the apple crop on the trees unless they
were guaranteed a minimum price of a cent per pound. Although
not entirely successful, the strike effectively conveyed the plight
of growers to the federal government which introduced a Natural
Products Marketing Act in 1934 to replace the disallowed provincial
fruit growers were to be the first producer group in Canada to
avail themselves of the legislation, but would again be frustrated
when the federal act was overturned by the courts two years later
due its invasion of provincial powers of marketing within a province.35
In anticipation of the outcome that befell the federal Act, British
Columbia amended its own Natural Products Marketing Act in 1936/37
to ensure that it covered only the marketing of products within
the province.36 Acting
on the results of a grower plebiscite, the British Columbia Fruit
Board allowed BC Tree Fruits full control of domestic sales in
1939, while the restrictions of a wartime economy saw control
further extended to international markets by 1941.37
This paved the way for the creation of BC Tree Fruits as the cornerstone
of the BCFGA's broad based policy "to do everything to protect
and further the interests of the growers in all matters directly
connected with the production and marketing of their produce."38
Legislation finally ensured fairer treatment as the single-desk
and orderly marketing checked unnecessary and cutthroat competition
amongst local growers, and directed the flow of produce to markets
in quantities that would avoid unnecessary gluts. The single-desk
offered the possibility to growers of uniting their economic power
within institutional and corporate structures, providing stability
for the orchard unit, and offering the benefits of the modern
Out of necessity, the BCFGA had been transformed, through the
introduction of central selling, into the tool needed to accommodate
the orchard landscape to the particulars of the Okanagan's site
and location. Centralizing the marketing process allowed growers
finally to achieve stability in production and marketing, but
it was to come at an expense. The single-desk and orderly marketing
institutionalized social and economic networks within the BCFGA
that could not be easily reversed.
Aaron Sapiro, "True Farmer Co-operation: The California Plan
of Cooperative Marketing. How it differs from the Rochdale Plan.
'Locality' vs. 'Commodity.' Organization and Financing,"
reprinted in Journal of Agricultural Cooperation, 1993,
2. In 1904, the President of the BCFGA
had felt compelled to address the perception that the association
remained beholden to the interests of coastal growers. Despite
his reassurances to the contrary, Okanagan growers established
their own selling agency independent of the association in 1908.
By 1913, BCFGA membership totaled only 600: a troublesome figure
in light of the thousands of individuals who had bought orchard
land during the land-boom years. By the early 1920s, these antagonisms
had been reversed; the BCFGA was slowly emerging as an institution
representative of interior growers. An official break with coastal
growers would come years later, in 1934, when Vancouver-area berry
producers broke with tree-fruit growers and formed their own association.
For more information see: Bruce Ramsey, "British Columbia
Fruit Growers' Association," Okanagan Historical Society,
28th Report, 1964, pp. 141-191. See also, David Dendy and Kathleen
Kyle, A Fruitful Century: The British Columbia Fruit Growers'
Association, 1889-1989, Joan McIntyre (editor), Kelowna: BCFGA,
3. British Columbia, Legislative Assembly,
Official Bulletin 10, Agriculture in British Columbia,
Victoria: King's Printer, 1912, p. 39.
4. Jeannette C. Boyer, Human Response
to Frost Hazards in the Orchard Industry, Okanagan Valley, British
Columbia, Waterloo: Department of Geography, University of
Waterloo, 1977, p. 36.
5. These two experiments were the Okanagan
Fruit Union, founded in 1908 and operated until 1912, and the
Okanagan United Growers between 1913 and 1922-23. By the 1920s
the OUG's control of the local market had steadily deteriorated,
reaching a climax in 1922-23 as it too had failed to control the
local market. With the last plantings of the land-boom era reaching
full maturity, total apple tree numbers peaked at an all time
high of 2,219,716 in 1921. The increased volume from trees planted
a decade earlier overwhelmed the existing marketing structures
and channels, further depressing prices and pushing the OUG into
insolvency. MacPhee, pp. 27-28.
6. Ian MacPherson, "Creating Stability
Amid Degrees of Marginality: Divisions in the Struggle for Orderly
Marketing in British Columbia 1900-1940," Canadian Papers
in Rural History, Volume 7, Gananoque: Langdale Press, 1990,
7. Ibid., p. 322.
8. In the span of four years, the average
annual production of apples went from 1,316,773 boxes in 1920,
to 2,769,180 boxes in 1921, 2,849,453 boxes in 1922 and 3,054,031
boxes in 1923 as a result of the maturation of over 1,465,662
trees that had been under ten years of age during the 1911 tree
census. As production decreased between 1924-25, so did the commitment
of growers to support a co-operative marketing venture such as
the Associated Growers. When production surpassed 3,500,000 boxes
in 1927, growers once again sought some form of collective action,
eventually giving rise to the Committee of Direction. MacPhee,
9. Randall E. Torgerson, Bruce Reynolds,
Thomas Gray, "Evolution of Co-operative Thought, Theory and
Purpose," presented as part of the conference "Cooperatives:
Their Importance in the Future of the Food and Agricultural System,"
Food and Agricultural Marketing Consortium, Las Vegas, NV, January
16-17, 1997, University of Wisconsin Center for Co-operatives.
http://www.wisc.edu/uwcc/info/torg.html (July 31, 2000).
10. Aaron Sapiro, quoted in "Committee
Recommends Sapiro Co-operative Plan," Vernon News,
January 11, 1923, p. 2.
12. David Dendy and Kathleen M. Kyle,
A Fruitful Century: The British Columbia Fruit Growers' Association
1889-1989, Joan McIntyre (editor), Kelowna: British Columbia
Fruit Growers Association, 1990, p. 49.
13. Garry Fairbairn, From Prairie Roots:
The Remarkable Story of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Saskatoon:
Western Producer Prairie Books, 1984, p. 24.
14. Dendy and Kyle, p. 51.
15. MacPherson, p. 311, and Fairbairn,
16. Paul Koroscil, "Soldiers, Settlement
and Development in British Columbia, 1915-1930," BC Studies,
No. 54, Summer 1982, p. 69.
17. British Columbia, Department of Lands
and Forests, D.W. Hodson, "The South Okanagan Land Project,"
Transactions of the British Columbia Natural Resources Conference,
Volume 7, 1954, p. 47.
18. Ibid., p. 48.
20. British Columbia, Department of Land
and Forests, S.L. Medland, "Economic Aspects of the South
Okanagan Lands Project," Transactions of the British Columbia
Natural Resources Conference, Volume 7, 1954, p. 52.
21. British Columbia, Department of Agriculture,
Report of the Royal Commission Investigating the Fruit Industry,
Part (I), (II), Sanford Evans (commissioner), Victoria: King's
Printer, 1931, p. 1.
22. "Companies sold a share in the
distribution system with each parcel of land sold, payable in
installments over a term of years
the water-user was dependent
for his supply of water on the successful operation of the company
system over which they had no control, and no guarantee it would
continue to operate year after year." Margaret Ormsby, "A
Study of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia," unpublished
MA Thesis, University of British Columbia, 1931, pp. 87-88.
23. Ibid., p. 91.
24. Ibid., p. 94.
25. Sanford Evans, pp. 57-58.
26. Ibid., p. 25.
27. As estimated by the Royal Commission
in 1927; see Sanford Evans, p. 6.
28. Dendy and Kyle, p. 55.
29. Donald Black, "F.M. Black and
the Committee of Direction," Okanagan Historical Society,
31st Report, 1967, p. 102.
30. In March of 1933 the BCFGA faced bankruptcy,
and the remainder of the year was spent re-organizing the association.
In the process, coastal growers, who by this point where predominantly
producing berries and vegetables, split off and established their
own British Columbia Coast Growers' Association. They no longer
believed that their interests could be represented in an association
dominated by tree-fruit growers. Dendy and Kyle, pp. 70-71.
31. Most notably: David Dendy, "Cent
a Pound or on the Ground: Okanagan Fruit Growers and Marketing,
1920-1935," Unpublished MA Thesis, University of British
Columbia, 1981; Dendy and Kathleen Kyle, A Fruitful Century:
The British Columbia Fruit Growers' Association 1889-1989,
Joan McIntyre (editor), Kelowna: British Columbia Fruit Growers
Association, 1990; Margaret Ormsby, "Fruit Marketing in the
Okanagan Valley of British Columbia," Agricultural History,
V. 9, No. 2, April 1935, The Agricultural History Society, Washington,
pp. 80-97; Bruce Ramsey, "British Columbia Fruit Growers'
Association," Okanagan Historical Society, Twenty-eighth
Report, 1964, pp. 141-191; Donald Black, "F.M. Black and
the Committee of Direction," Okanagan Historical Society,
31st Report, 1967, pp. 100-106.
32. Dendy and Kyle, p. 67.
33. The return on a bushel of apples before
1931 was: $1.23 in 1926/27, $1.44 in 1927/28, $1.23 in 1928/29,
$1.29 1929/30, and $1.24 in 1930/31. Dominion Bureau of Statistics,
quoted in MacPhee, p. 104.
34. Dendy and Kyle, p. 76.
35. Bruce Ramsey, "British Columbia
Fruit Growers' Association," Okanagan Historical Society,
Twenty-eighth Report, 1964, p. 178.
36. MacPhee, p. 35.
37. Dendy and Kyle, p. 83.
38. Arthur Garrish, quoted in MacPhee, p.
39. Ibid., p. 330.
Copyright Christopher John Garrish. All rights reserved.