Fruit Co-op cans CEO
Nov 2, 2012 / 1:00 pm
These days the idyllic setting of the Okanagan's many orchards belies the turmoil bubbling just below the surface of the Okanagan fruit industry.
After a dispute broke out between Kirpal Boparai, President of the BC Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA) and the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative (OTFC), membership from both sides appear to be split, along with the many growers they represent.
On Thursday, November 1, the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative's new board of directors named Alan Tyabji as its new Chief Executive Officer.
Tyabji replaces Gary Schieck, who was abruptly removed from the post, along with Operations Manager Rod Vint prior to the announcement.
"It's a board decision," says Tyabji. "I was asked whether or not I would step in because Gary was leaving the organization."
He held various positions within the cooperative including General Manager from January 1995 until 2008, when the two existing cooperatives in the Okanagan amalgamated and Tyabji was appointed joint Chief Executive Officer of the OTFC.
The change at the top was preceded by the OTFC AGM on October 23, which saw Vice President Jack Machial and board member Sam Di Maria fail in their re-election bid.
Instead, Gordon Hahn, a Grower from Oliver and Kamlesh Parmar, a Grower in Kelowna, were elected to the board.
Rob Dawson was re-elected as President, a position he has held since 2011. Colin Pritchard, who has served as a board director since 2011 was elected as Vice President for the North Region. Nirmal Dhaliwal, a board member since 2010 is now the Vice President of the South Region.
The AGM also heard from orchardist and former director Glen Cross, who urged the organization to take action against the BC Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA) and stop funding the organization until president Kirpal Boparai is removed from his post.
Tyabji says that issue was not discussed at Thursday's meeting because it wasn't on the agenda.
On Thursday October 4, the OTFC announced that Boparai no longer has a contract or membership with the cooperative and that they will not accept any of his fruit.
At the time, Boparai argued that he and other growers are fed up with OTFC and that he has no choice but to sell his fruit where he sees fit.
It was Boparai's decision not to honour the contract with the OTFC that led to the decision to cut ties with the BCFGA President.
The job of mending this rift now falls to Tyabji, who started with the Okanagan Similkameen Cooperative in December 1985.
He aims to do that by taking a grass roots approach through regionalization.
"The benefit of going to regionalization is you get more of a grass roots connection. One of my key priorities is grower relationships. (They) are best achieved when you have a senior person closer to the grower bodies, as opposed to centralized."
Tyabji says he will seek the input of his membership to discover the best way to solve the problems they face.
"I've already put out a letter to all of my growers encouraging them to use a website that I set up called firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm soliciting their comments about things they have a concern with and also I'm asking them for their solutions to the problem."
Tyabji says he will use the information to identify the issues facing growers and determine a solution to them.
One of those issues is the growers ability to make a profit, something many orchardists say they haven't done in the last few years.
"Our objective there is to reduce overhead costs. That happens in many areas. We have properties that are currently being positioned for sale. When they sell, not only do you bring capital in, which then reduces your interest costs, but it also reduces things like property taxes and insurance."
Higher returns are another key element and Tyabji says that will happen this year because of the crop failure in Eastern Canada.
"It has resulted in a high demand for western fruit, so prices and returns to growers will be quite good. I can't take credit for that but there's tremendous reason for optimism."
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