Co-operation Bears Fruit in B. C.
During the past ten years the value of British Columbia’s fruit production has more than quadrupled. Of late, the Sunset Province has been selling onions in New Zealand, tomatoes in New York, and apples in the far-famed apple country of Ontario—in other words, performing prodigious feats of marketing. How is it done? Here’s the answer
W. E. McTAGGART
BREAKING records, upsetting established trade practices and hitting a stiff pace along the road to the Town of Orderly Marketing are now everyday affairs with the fruit and vegetable growers of British Columbia. No matter what the product, the British Columbians seem to be able to do something with it.
Just the other day the Vancouver Island growers who specialize in raising fancy vegetables under glass, shipped six cars of hothouse tomatoes to Toronto and Montreal; and just for the fun of the thing they sent a few crates on to New York. That gives some idea of how the fruit and vegetable business of the Pacific Coast province has developed during the past few years.
The tomatoes that went travelling and all their brothers and sisters are grown with particular care. The plants are selected with all the fastidiousness that a haberdasher exercises in selecting a high-grade stock. Once set out in the greenhouses they are nourished with the utmost thoroughness. The ripened fruit is carefully graded as to smoothness and size, for every crate must leave the packing house in the best possible condition, whether it be for local consumption or the particular trade of some Toronto grocer.
It is this care that has won for the Vancouver Island growers good prices for their products and renown for themselves, and has enabled them to compete successfully in the eastern markets.
But, the reader asks, how can it pay to ship fruit and vegetables all the way across a continent?
There’s a reason. Ontario and the Montreal area have hundreds of commercial greenhouses and orchards, yet the British Columbia growers put tomatoes and apples and other fruits, on the front doorstep of the people who first established the business in Canada.
Why? The reason is this: The British Columbia grower caters to the market and gives the customer what he asks for. Therein lies the secret of British Columbia’s marketing success.
The growers of the far west have had their troubles and goodness knows they haven’t come singly either.
But, despite setbacks at the hands of man and nature, the industrious producers have kept everlastingly at it. They have conquered cultural problems that only the utmost in skill and persistency could have solved. They have studied marketing systems and experimented with marketing systems until marketing has almost done them in and yet—to-day, British Columbia is selling fruit and vegetables in markets which were unthought of but a few years back.
Not so many years ago a number of potato growers thought certified seed potatoes would do well in British Columbia. With the help of government officials, and by dint of their own hard labor they organized an association and developed some exceptionally good strains of potatoes. Each year saw the business grow until last season the spud-seed men had the joyous satisfaction of seeing one of the largest potato growers in the golden state of California come to British Columbia. He looked over the seed and placed a big order. And British Columbia seed spuds have gone not only to the southern state, for they have been shipped to the prairies and across the seas as well.
Last fall hundreds of tons of onions grown in British Columbia’s interior valleys sailed across the Pacific to New Zealand. As soon as the buyers in the Antipodes opened the sacks they asked for more and got them. That deal was probably one of the biggest of its kind ever transacted in Canada, and it is certainly one that ranks high in intercolonial agricultural trade.
The climate and soil of British Columbia’s lower Fraser valley and Vancouver Island seem to exercise a magic influence on berries be they straws, rasps or logans. Yields, in most seasons, are good. Scores of cars of fresh fruit travel to the prairies each year while thousands of tons go into jam kettles and canning vats. More tons go to the processing plants where the berries are bottled for soda fountain use and put up in containers for bakers.
It was not so long ago that Scotland had a short crop of raspberries. This, of course, meant that Scotch jam makers were worried as to their supplies. J. A. Grant, the British Columbia fruit market» commissioner, being from North of the Tweed, knew thecondition and quickly established trade connections which resulted in many tons of British. Columbia berry pulp going to the old land where it was boiled into good Scottish j am. Where that jam was eventually eaten ’twould be hard to say, but it was shipped, like most Scottish, goods, to the far corners of the world.
Chicago, too, has eaten and called for more and more raspberries from Canada’s Pacific province and as this is being written there is a possibility of ten cars of British Columbia raspberries being shipped to the windy city. Ontario, too, has taken her share of strawberry and raspberry products from the berry patches of the Sunset Province.
Loganberries provide,perhaps, the most romantic story of the West Coast berry fields. When some of the breweries in Washington and Oregon were put out of business by various dry laws aiming at prohibition, the brewers cast about for some use for their plants. It so happened that there was an overproduction of loganberries in the same states. The upshot was that the brewers set chemists to work who soon developed a highly palatable drink of loganberry juice. This new thirst quencher caught on for a time, but like near beer, it failed to draw thirsty tongues for repeat orders.
! A similar condition prevailed a couple of years ago in British Columbia. The acreage planted to loganberries had been overdone; at least, most folks thought so. The fruit went begging.
And then someone—-I’ve never heard who was the real father of the idea— took a page from the American growers’ book of experience and made some loganberry “juice.” But this Canadian “juice” was a little more wine than it was juice. Thus a real idea was let loose—why not make loganberry wine? No sooner said than done.
Loganberry wine plants were established. They were small affairs, to be sure, but they began to turn out quantities of the new vintage. The public sipped, quaffed and called for another round; and so the growers sold their logans.
When this new wine became better known and more widely distributed it soon won many friends. The taste was pleasing and not unlike good port. It was only a natural turn of events that the government liquor stores should sell this new wine from British Columbia berries and from that time the loganberry industry has shown splendid growth. Nor was such a product allowed to brew for disposal in British Columbia alone. Its fame—or rather its flavor— was blown across the Pacific to be followed in a short time by large orders from Oriental importers.
Stepping Stones to Marketing Success
THESE marketing successes are, however, but side-shows to the big display provided by apples, and the tree fruits of the interior. From the time when the first commercial apple orchards in British Columbia attracted praise until today, the tree fruit business has had its joys and successes, its failures and calamities, but all the while it has been making progress toward the elusive goal of orderly marketing.
It is not so many years ago that most easterners would have laughed at anyone who suggested growing fruit west of the Great Lakes. But what a different story to-day! Now, British Columbia is setting the pace for all Canada. Some idea of the rate at which the industry has developed can be gained from knowledge of the fact that the value of its aggregate product has more than quadrupled during the past ten years. The following figures tell their own story.
Year Value of B.C.
1900.......... $ 436,000
When Lord Aberdeen set out in orchard part of his famous Coldstream Ranch, near Vernon in the Okanagan Valley, there was a good deal of skepticism, but the typical western boom which soon followed, carried the skeptics off their feet and cast them aside.
Most of the new fruit growers had more ambition than experience when they bought their lands from the enthusiastic real estate spellbinders, but they plunged in and did their best. Many of them sank in the attempt; but many more swam.
Growing the fruit was not the chief problem. As always, the real difficulty was marketing. The business developed quickly and with it came fruit shippers, who like most, humans, are in business for profit. Some growers thought this profit from the sale of their products should be theirs. Following a period of agitation, a co-operative organization, The Okanagan Fruit Union, was organized. It failed.
Next came the Okanagan United Growers, a much larger concern. This controlled a heavy tonnage of fruit and vegetables. At first it confined its efforts to the Okanagan but in its later days it handled the crops of the Boundary, Kootenay and Similkameen growers.
This new business grew until it had sales and marketing offices in all the principlal prairie and coast consuming centres. It lived nine years, three times the average life of such enterprises, demonstrating that the main body of British Columbia growers are good co-operators.
For various reasons, chief being the lack of information to grower-members, this co-operative lost its usefulness. A contributory cause of its downfall was the running amuck of a sales agent on a potato speculation. This resulted in the “gug”, as it was generally known, losing several thousands of dollars. Still another, and absolutely uncontrollable reason, was that in 1921, the price of wheat dropped a dollar a bushel almost overnight. Gloom was cast over everything and everybody. Prairie trade was in a turmoil and just at a time when the main portion of the apple crop was going to market.
And then again most co-operatives suffer periodic spell of sickness; ac such times tonics are usually recommended. The tonic in this case was prescribed by a committee of seven growers.
“The fruit business is all shot to pieces,” said the committee. “What we need is a new co-operative organization embracing about ninety per cent of the tonnage of the tree fruit districts of British Columbia. Then we can control the business.”
That sounded like good reasoning and was given serious consideration. Then, just when the committee’s plan was about to be broadcast, along came Aaron Sapiro, the co-operative marketing wizard from California. Aaron lands an enthusiastic wallop for co-operation wherever he goes and after four meetings in the Okanagan in two days, the valley was so infected with the co-operative germ that there was nothing to it—everyone, or most everyone, was boosting for the growers’ “co-op.” And away it went in a cloud of enthusiasm!
Business men, school teachers, boards of trade, and clergy got behind the movement; from their respective rostrums they preached the gospel of orderly marketing as expounded by Sapiro.
After a strenuous contract-signing campaign, during which growers were solicited to market their crops through the Associated Growers for five years, the tonnage was tabulated. Eighty-five per cent, of the fruit grown in the interior valleys had been contracted to the new concern. That is a Canadian co-operative record that will stand for many a long day, or I miss my guess.
But the big job was ahead. The new directors got their house in order with A. T. Howe, an ex-Torontonian as president. He had given up active commercial life, and settled on a beautifully located fruit ranch near Vernon to enjoy the sunny Okanagan. But with the presidency of the new concern on his hands he found himself back in business, the like of which he had never before experienced. Sales problems, credits, financial commitments, the merging of existing local co-operative concerns with the new concern, personnel and transportation were only a few of the hundred and one things that the newly elected officers had to deal with. And they had to be dealt with at once as the fruit was coming on, and the early varieties were calling for immediate marketing attention.
The Associated Growers, or Central, did the selling and assembling. While the locals in every district did the packing, gathering and preparing the fruit for shipment, there were many other questions of general welfare to the entire organization to be handled by the head office, so it requires no flight of the imagination to picture the colossal task that confronted the officers and employees when they first got into harness.
Problems rolled up aplenty but the new con-, cern got under way with the best wishes and blessing, of everyone, and to-day most folks wish it well after three seasons in business. And now a few results can be reported.
Until the spring of 1925 brokers represented, and did the selling for most of the British Columbia shippers, co-operative or otherwise, at prairie and coast distributing points. In some instances^these brokers were controlled by the jobbers; in other words the buyer controlled the man who was the agent of the seller. Naturally the growsers were not enamored of this condition. So, the Associated Growers, a year ago, organized a subsidiary company known as the Canadian Fruit Distributors. This concern opened offices in nearly every prairie city and set out to sell the fruit of its contract-holders. This branch of the growers’ business not only gave better service to the growers during its first year but it gave onthe-job attention to the buyer and his needs. And it made a profit of ten thousand dollars.
Another feather in the “co-op’s.” cap is the manner in which it has built up a grower-owned plant. Half a million dollars of the growers’ own money is now invested in packing houses and equipment. These buildings were taken over from the former shippers, payment being made in debentures which have since been paid off each year by deducting so much per box from each grower’s returns. In this way the growers are paying off the mortgage without feeling the pinch.
In speaking at Kelowna the other day, E. J. Chambers, now president of the Associated, said that Central, after Continued on page 48
starting without a dollar of capital, now had a reserve of $50,000 in addition to another $35,000 absorbed on the purchase of buildings and $30,000 which had been paid for the O.K. brand. (This was the trade mark employed by the former Okanagan United Growers. “O” stands for Okanagan and “K” for Kootenay.
The capital of affiliated locals is now in excess of $500,000, with additional reserves of $100,000. Operating charges on apples are to be one cent a box less this season than they were last year, and proportionately less on other produce. Locals will be able to discontinue deductions, this year, now that they have paid for their buildings. This will make returns in the future considerably better.
Not many concerns can show such a good statement at the end of their first three years in business.
To show how much better off the cooperative growers are to-day than they were under previous plans, a few words about Penticton are in order. To-day the Penticton Co-Operative Growers’ total share capital and general reserve and surplus account amounts to $90,000. Of this $47,000 is invested in buildings, while $19,000 is in orchard boxes and other equipment. At the time of the organization of the Associated, the Penticton growers had but $3,500 invested in their business.
Troubles oi the “Co-op.”
THE life of this co-operative has not been altogether a rosy one. And as it is dealing with humans naturally there was bound to be some dissatisfaction. The discontented members pulled away whenever they got the chance. One plan “to get out from under” the fiveyear contract was a scheme whereby a grower organized a joint stock company, the stock being owned or controlled by himself and his wife. To this company the grower would “sell” his fruit ranch and thus release himself from his contract. The courts upheld this, although it was bitterly contested by the growers’ associations.
Tonnage has also been lost*by sales of property, legitimate in most instances, and by independent shippers buying up orchards to assure themselves of supplies.
For these reasons and some others, the Associated now controls but sixty per cent, or thereabouts of the interior tonnage, which is no small amount of fruit and vegetables. Last year the company handled approximately 3,100 cars and returned to the growers more than two millions and a half in good coin of the realm.
There has been criticism of the Associated; lots of it. Co-operative concerns are usually lambasted and seem to be fair targets for everyone; the British Columbia organization has not escaped.
The officers, both elected and employed, are.^however, to blame for much criticism by not giving the growers and the general public, sufficient information about the business. The growers own it and they should be told what’s going on. This lack of publicity has given rise to all manner of rumors which never would have been spread had the facts been published first. The Associated is doing better of late, but there is still room for much improvement. And on this question every newspaper in the British Columbia fruit districts has been most outspoken. Real information never hurt anyone but lack of it causes all kinds of trouble.
One of Aaron Sapiro’s lieutenants says that the paucity of information to members has killed more co-operative organizations than any other single factor.
While the wave of enthusiasm for cooperation was sweeping through the fruit districts the independent shippers were watching out for themselves. Most of them merged their businesses with the big co-operative at its inception. But, since that time, many of them have crept back into the fruit shipping business, which has a lure and fascination that is compelling.
Whenever available tonnage was noticed there would be a shipper ready to handle it, so to-day there are as many, if not more, independent fruit shippers than there were before the co-operative germ hit the province. But they handle, collectively, less tonnage than they did five years ago.
But now there is not the same antagonism of the old days. Then there were hundreds of grower-shippers who upset the fruit marketing wagon most unmercifully in 1922. Now the business is more centralized and better controlled, with a real spirit of co-operation everywhere.
The independents have organized their own selling agency —• Sales Service, Limited. This service will sell and allocate shipments for its members just as the Associated does for its affiliations. Outside the pale, however, are a few of those more independent souls who will never work in harmony with anyone.
Sales Service and the Associated this year will confer frequently on traffic matters, sales questions, credits, doubtful risks, and in other ways meet to discuss common problems for the welfare of the industry.
And it is well that it is so, because Providence has not yet made all folks of the one opinion as to the marketing of agricultural products. But, although they can’t all agree as to method, there is wisdom and profit in conferring in a co-operative manner on common ground. And therein the British Columbia shippers are setting an example in commercial helpfulness.
And that, more than any other single factor, explains why the Pacifie Coast province ships its apples to every continent, its seed potatoes down south and across the seas, its berries to Chicago and Scotland, and its tomatoes to Eastern Canada.