Will fruit growers benefit from building sell-off?

To the editor:

To the editor:

Reports that the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative plans to sell off in excess of $20 million in real estate property sounds good in the short term but what about the long term?

There’s no question that there are aging buildings and a lot of this property is on prime real estate that is worth millions of dollars, but when all this money is spent on new infrastructure and packing lines, will this put more money into the fruit growers’ pocket?

History points to no. I’ve been involved in the industry for 37 years, long enough to know that amalgamation— starting in 1972 when there use to be 14 co-ops and four independents, to 2008 when the remaining valley packinghouses, Okanagan North, B.C. Fruit Packers, Sun Fresh and Okanagan Similkameen Cooperative formed to be one big operation—has not make one little bit of difference. If anything, things have gotten worse—just ask any fruit grower or unionized worker involved in the industry.

Restructuring saw general manager’s become CEO’s, secretary treasures become chief financial officers and I’m not quite sure who a director of Growers Services and Logistics took the place of, but nevertheless, very impressive names for sure.

I like to think of BC Tree Fruits and the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-opertive as being a form of government with the board of directors being the MLAs and the 800 growers, of course, being the taxpayers. In real government when do the ordinary taxpayers actually have a say in a matter? Usually the MLAs make decisions without input from the taxpayers.

In the tree fruit industry, the board of directors make the final decision on behalf of the growers. See the similarity between the two?

Years ago Sun Rype Products used to be owned by the Fruit Growers of the Okanagan Valley which was later sold and, as of to-day, belongs to Jimmy Pattison’s long list of companies.

A current board director once told me that selling off Sun Rype was a big mistake—well duh. Sure there are still process apples being sent from area packing houses to Sun Rype but what about tons, and I me tons of apples, pears and cherry culls that are being dumped because there is no other means to get these disposed of?

Production at the Vaughan Avenue plant has decreased from 500 bins a shift in the 1990s to less than 250 bins because of a brand new grader that was installed. At one time, before this new line was put in, apples and pears could not be run at the same time even though Kelowna area had the largest volume of apples and that all of the valley’s pears were graded packaged and shipped out of this one facility. One grader was put in that was actually made to process potatoes of all things. Re-packing has and always has been an issue where fruit graded and packaged has to be re-sorted and repacked because it doesn’t made the grade or is actually shipped back from the buyers. This is usually done on the MacIntosh variety which tends to bruise more than any of the other apple varieties.

The Sterile Insect Release Program was suppose get rid of, or at the very least cut back on, the amount of chemical sprays to control the dreaded codling moth. After years and years of this program has it really made any difference? Every fruit growers pays big time for this program, in fact every taxpaying citizen on the whole Okanagan Valley pays for this through there property taxes every year.

I’m not a very smart person but wouldn’t you think that if this was a successful program wouldn’t every apple region in the frigging world be doing the same thing? Why is the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia the guinea pig doing this?

With the amalgamation and now the increased size of new operations, the Food Safe Program has now cost the cooperative millions of dollars in up-keeps that allow the company to continuing operations, even though other countries like China and Chile do not have the same rules and have sub- par regulation when it comes to cleanliness in the work place.

Contracting out might make sense if it saves the company money but if it’s costing more to haul the fruit throughout the valley, why would the board even consider this as an option even for the orchard hauling which actually makes money for the company by hauling in the growers during harvest season?

These and many more serious questions need to be addressed at the board of directors meeting Jan 27. Many mistakes have been made over the years that has cost production shortage, plant closure, job lost, money lost and low returns for the 800 growers in the valley. This is a industry that generates 130 million in revenue, contribute 900 million in economic activity and employs some 1,500 people. I only hope that mistakes made in the past do not keep occurring and that a sensible, and intelligent business management plan is only what it takes to get this industry back on the right track.

Jeff Bryde,

Kelowna

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