Abbotsford blueberry grower and veterinarian Dalbir Benipal is the new chair of the BC Blueberry Council.
Benipal narrowly edged out fellow grower Jason Smith at the first meeting of the council’s nine directors following the council’s annual general meeting in late June. Benipal received five votes while Smith received four.
Benipal previously served as vice-chair, and Smith will now hold that position.
Benipal succeeds Jack Bates of Tecarte Farms in Delta. He is the first Indo-Canadian to hold the position.
“I am thankful to all the board directors for showing faith in me,” he said. “I am delighted over the results.”
Benipal immigrated to Canada from India in 2000 and started his small-animal veterinary practice in 2002. In 2011, he started farming, a natural move that reflected his roots in Punjab, a largely agrarian province in India.
“Being from Punjab, I feel connected with land and farming. So, I decided to start agriculture here, too” he said.
When asked about priorities for BC blueberries, Dalbir says improving the sector’s competitiveness is key. While marketing is important, it goes beyond that.
“In some neighbour countries the cost of production is relatively low due to cheap land and labour availability. Competing with them at the international level reduces the profit margins of the growers,” he says. “I aspire to have BC blueberries recognized, and for that, we are focusing on the varietal improvement of the blueberries.”
It’s also important to grow local skills.
“We also want to educate the growers so they can increase their profit margins,” he says. “Additionally, we will work to get maximum funding and grants for the farmers from the province.”
Many of the more than 600 growers who farm the province’s 27,000 acres of blueberries are Indo-Canadian, and Benipal believes he can make the kinds of connections needed to support them.
“The Punjabi growers of the region can now directly contact the newly appointed chair and share the problems in their mother tongue (Punjabi),” says Harpal Singh, a blueberry grower in Abbotsford.