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New apple packing line in Winfield a huge benefit to local growers

Alan Tyabji, the chief executive of the B.C. Tree Fruit Ltd. speaks at the unveiling of a new packing line at the Winfield apple packinghouse on Wednesday.  - Kevin Parnell
Alan Tyabji, the chief executive of the B.C. Tree Fruit Ltd. speaks at the unveiling of a new packing line at the Winfield apple packinghouse on Wednesday.
— image credit: Kevin Parnell

A new $735,000 packing line at the Winfield apple packinghouse will bring costs for Okanagan apple growers in line with its chief competitors in Washington State.

Those were the thoughts of Alan Tyabji, the chief executive officer of the B.C. Tree Fruit Cooperative after a public announcement and unveiling of a new apple packing line in Winfield.

"We had antiquated equipment and we needed help," said Tyajbi, "The reality is with the changes this line will bring, not only is it easier to grade our fruit but the fruit that comes out the other end is so much cleaner that it reduces costs as well."

Together with cherries, Okanagan apples make up 80 per cent of the tree fruit industry in the Okanagan. But the industry has been lagging behind places like Washington State when it comes to technological improvements. The aging packinghouse in Winfield was a prime example.

But Tyabji said this investment will bring the industry onto equal footing with Washington State and allow Okanagan apples to better compete in the market-place.

"The growers in our cooperative and our farmers want to thank both levels of government for this investment," he said. "With this change we are now capable of matching Washington packing costs. We weren't able to do that before but we are now."

The investment was made under the federal and provincial Tree Fruit Market and Infrastructure Initiative and comes on the heels of a $5 million funding announcement in 2010 and a further $2.7 million last year that was aimed at streamlining and improving operations at the facility.

"There is great competition to the south of us and around the world," said Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan. "But we have some great farmers in our province and we want to help them out."

The investment by government is part of a broader strategy that is aimed at improving operations in the B.C. Tree Fruits Cooperative.

"This investment in new technology will lower operating costs and lead to high-quality tree fruits for consumers," said Gerry Ritz, federal agriculture minster. "It will also ensure our tree fruit producers can meet market demands and remain competitive in the global marketplace."

Pat Pimm, the provincial agriculture minster was also on hand at the announcement.

"It's wonderful to see the excitement for agriculture in this part of the province," he said. "The Okanagan has an incredible tradition of producing fruit. This funding will help the tree fruit industry get their products to market more efficiently and earn more dollars."

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