John Kingsmill

British Columbia’s new apple and cherry varieties need to be released in a more coordinated fashion, with the involvement of growers, packers, and marketers, as well as the breeders, John Kingsmill says.

Last fall, Kingsmill succeeded James Calissi as general manager and chief executive officer of the Okanagan Plant Improvement Company (PICO) in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada.

PICO commercializes fruit varieties developed in British Columbia, including those from the breeding program at the Pacific Agri-food Research Centre (PARC) in Summerland. It coordinates grower trials, supplies trees, applies for patents and trademarks, directs market research, develops marketing strategies, and conducts promotional campaigns. It is a subsidiary of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

Kingsmill said when a variety is introduced, there can be resistance from packers and marketers who have to put up with the trials and tribulations of processing and marketing new and untried varieties that the growers bring to them.

“I think because new varieties are really important to the future of this industry—not only in British Columbia, but everywhere in the world—we have to be very careful and prudent in the way we develop new variety strategies from the time when breeders like PARC think they have a winner to the eventual commercialization of them,” he said. “That involves the growers on up, with growers, packers and marketers getting involved in that process, and buying into it early on, and attending tasting panels.

“Right now, it appears to me that the process is somewhat fractured and really needs to be articulated clearly,” he added. “We all need to be on the same page.”

Former attorney

Kingsmill, a former attorney in Vancouver, British Columbia, moved to the Okanagan Valley in 1997 when he became involved in a start-up technology company called Identec Solutions, which designs, develops, and markets radio frequency identification (RFID) systems. Because many of its customers are in the United States, the company relocated recently to Dallas, Texas. Kingsmill, who was company president, opted to leave the business in order to stay in British Columbia.

When he saw the PICO manager’s job advertised last year, he was intrigued by the intellectual property aspects, as he had experience in IP management while with Identec. The company holds a number of patents and trademarks for the technology it commercialized. Kingswell was also interested in the fact that PICO was on the leading edge in commercializing new fruit varieties and had a global presence.

He said PICO is looking for business opportunities in licensing new varieties from PARC and other fruit breeders.

He sees opportunities to license varieties in South America, India, and China, but said people are wary about dealing with China because they’re not sure how to do that yet.