KirpalKIrpal Boparai president of the BCFGA.
In his pre-election pitch Kirpal Boparai, the new president of the British Columbia Fruit Growers’ Association, said he wanted to bring strong leadership to the position. Boparai, a long-time Kelowna farmer, has 60 acres in apples and 10 more in cherries.
Boparai came to Canada from India when he was 11 years old and has been working on a farm in this country ever since. First it was on his father’s land, but in 1987 Boparai purchased his own farm.
Over the years he says the biggest changes have been the switch of apple varietals from Red Delicious and Macintosh to modern ones like Ambrosia and Gala. Other game changers include the development of late ripening cherries and the replant programs from the early 2000s.
Now he feels other changes must be made to keep fruit farming going. “There’s not enough money coming to the farmers and everything else falls behind that.”’
Boparai makes it clear one of his big focuses will be setting a fire under both levels of senior government. He believes government is sometimes well intentioned, but largely misses the mark.
“I’m guessing at this, but the [government] programs are designed for grain growers or quick growing crops. For tree fruit farmers it’s like they don’t have an idea of what we need.”
The new president, who headed off to India for a reunion with his extended family one week after the election, was reluctant to name those specific needs until after he has had proper time to investigate and talk with other members of the BCFGA executive.
In general though he is critical of how government has made farming more difficult. “We keep getting all these rules and regulations, but government won’t help us with the costs.”
The Agricultural Land Reserve is a good example. When it was set up there was a promise that for giving up an unfettered ability to sell or develop their land, the province would provide financial support to farmers. Over time the requirements and restrictions on ALR land have grown, but provincial support has been steadily stripped away.
Boparai also singles out the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) for some attention, partially because water use was one of the themes at the BCFGA’s recent annual general meeting.
While B.C.’s apple production has dropped from 10 million boxes to three million, Washington growth exploded to around 100 million. Boparai feels that couldn’t have happened without water from the CRT. His view is that the provincial and federal governments signed a document that allowed extensive irrigation across the border, which would eventually give birth to the B.C. tree fruit farmers’ biggest competitor.
Given the money paid annually to British Columbia for that treaty, Boparai believes it is time tree fruit farmers be given some consideration as recipients – not through direct handouts but in program support.
“We want to get some different programs in place that every grower can use.” Boparai is a little tired of the talk about farmers needing to become more competitive and cut costs. “Costs can only be cut back so much and farmers have done everything they can.”