For a relatively small industry with annual apple production of about 6 million bushels, the apple growers of Quebec have a very substantial market power and are backed by loyal consumers who’d rather eat a Quebec McIntosh than any other apple. That market power is exercised through the Federation of Apple Growers of Quebec.
In an interview with Good Fruit Grower, apple grower Steve Levasseur, the president of the group, explained how it works.
The grower organization can forge agreements with apple processors and fresh-market buyers, negotiating prices and other terms, including quality standards. In the United States, there is only one such similar group, the Processing Apple Growers of Michigan, which has substantially less power.
The Quebec federation was formed in 1974, he said, after the Canadian province passed a marketing act that allows agricultural organizations to form and speak on behalf of growers. Growers voted overwhelmingly, Levasseur said, to create this program, which regulates conditions in the market and works on behalf of the interests of growers.
“We are very proud of it,” Levasseur said. “We are doing a good job for our growers.”
Membership in the federation is not voluntary. All apple growers, except those involved in direct marketing through farm markets or you-pick operations, must be members and must pay fees that go for research and development of apple markets, promotional activities, and administration of the program. There are currently 563 members.
The fees are collected by the first buyer of an apple. Growers pay a fixed assessment of 38 cents a bushel for apples that will be sold fresh, 17 cents a bushel for processing apples, and an additional 25 cents a bushel for marketing activities, which are used if needed, but, if not, are rebated to growers.
“We are permitted by law to collect these fees from all growers, and we have the tools by which to collect them,” Levasseur said. He estimates compliance at 95 to 98 percent.
In Quebec, Levasseur said, there are two large buyers of processing apples, three or four medium-sized ones, and 10 to 15 smaller buyers. The packers are themselves organized in the Association of Quebec Apple Packers.
The grower federation, which has a staff of eight, coordinates the promotion of Quebec apples, the major varieties of which are McIntosh, Cortland, Spartan, and Empire, but Honeycrisp and Gala on coming on strongly. A logo, Quality Apples Quebec, helps establish identity, and there is a strong “buy local” ethic among Quebec consumers.
Apple quality standards are enforced by inspectors who visit packing stations and evaluate the pack for bruising, insect damage, puncture wounds, size, color, internal defects, and—especially—firmness.
The federation has several committees responsible for setting minimum prices, lobbying for the interests of growers, supporting research, and finding ways to reduce production costs.
The federation has power, but uses it to work cooperatively, Levasseur said. It is part of a roundtable, a formal consultative forum in which growers, buyers, and retailers meet to form strategic plans to advance the Quebec industry.