by SUSAN MANN
Charles Stevens of Newcastle is the new chair of the Ontario Apple Growers.
Stevens, who operates Wilmont Orchards along with his wife, Judi, and daughter, Courtney, was elected at the board of directors meeting Tuesday. He replaces outgoing chair Brian Gilroy of Meaford, who has been the Apple Growers chair since 2008, and will continue to serve on the board as a director. Cathy McKay of Port Perry is the new vice chair.
As chair, Stevens says he plans to focus on getting the apple industry to work together, including growers, marketers and retailers, to fill the huge space at retail establishments packed with imported apples. “It (the industry) is coming together a lot better,” he says.
Stevens says the Ontario apple industry will never be able to replace all the apple imports coming into the province. Instead, the idea is to replace imports of apples Ontario farmers can grow equally as well as any other country around the world. For example, Gala is the number one selling apple in Ontario and provincial farmers could grow twice the amount of Galas they grow today and still not be able to supply the entire demand.
To replace imports “you have to see what the marketplace wants,” he says, and “you have to use every new technology that’s out there to grow the apples; you must have support from the retailers and the marketers and everybody works together and I think we can grow this industry.”
Stevens says the apple industry has gotten smaller over the years and provincial farmers are only growing about 29 per cent of the market share in Ontario. But now is the time to build the industry.
Planting new apple trees is huge investment for growers. “It’s a complicated business and it’s a risky business,” he notes. For each tree growers plant, jobs are created in trucking, packing and at the retail stores. “There’s all kinds of extra jobs being created,” he says.
The industry needs governments “to be also on side with doing this,” he notes.
Stevens has been a director on the Ontario Apple Growers board since 2006. Previously he was the organization’s vice chair. He also served on the Apple Growers risk management and revitalization committees and is currently chair of the crop protection committees at both the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Canadian Horticultural Council. He represents apples on the Ontario Fruit Technical Committee.
In 1999, Stevens received the Chemtura Golden Apple Award, which is given each year to a grower who has made outstanding contributions to the provincial apple industry. BF