Growers from across the Okanagan gathered in the Ramada hotel parking lot in Kelowna to voice their concerns with BCTF (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

Growers from across the Okanagan gathered in the Ramada hotel parking lot in Kelowna to voice their concerns with BCTF (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

BC Tree Fruits CEO defends moving plant from Kelowna to Oliver

In May, the CEO released a video saying the facility will be build in Kelowna

The CEO of BC Tree Fruits (BCTF) has spoken out after cancelling an in-person meeting with growers.

Growers from across the Okanagan gathered, on Sept 1, in the Ramada hotel parking lot in Kelowna to voice their concerns with decisions made by BCTF. The protest comes after an Aug. 18 surprise decision to move construction for the new fruit processing plant from Kelowna to Oliver.

The protest was organized to precede a scheduled meeting with BCTF but the meeting was moved online due to the gathering.

“We absolutely wanted to meet with our growers live,” said Warren Sarafinchan, though he says they were forced to move the meeting to Zoom after the Ramada, where the discussions were scheduled to take place, voiced “security concerns,” regarding the planned protest.

In May, Sarafinchan released a video saying “I can tell you with certainty that the new facility will be built on Old Vernon Road.”

Sarafinchan told Capital News on Sept. 2 that new information regarding construction costs and investment rates impacted the decision to move construction of a new processing plant to Oliver. He explained that the location considered for the Kelowna facility would have required ground-up construction, while Oliver already has a suitable building that is ready to be renovated and used.

Sarafinchan said that the board recognizes that this is a different direction than they thought they were going.

Andre Scheepers, chair of the board of directors, said that until recently, management and the board collectively believed that a new build in Kelowna was the best course of action.

“The sharp rise in construction costs and interest rates along with changes in the industry made the plan for a new build far too risky,” he said.

Sarafinchan said BCTF is investing in the future of agriculture in the Okanagan and made the decision in order to ensure farmers receive a high rate of return on their product.

Growers at the protest explained that having to transport apples from the North Okanagan, where 75 per cent of apples in the Okanagan are grown, down to Oliver, will add a significant expense and were not confident that the move would make them money.

Additionally, growers fear that the additional handling and transportation of the fruit will cause bruising and damage to the produce.

Sarafinchan said that moving the facility to Oliver would reduce costs, making room in the budget for new, world-class equipment. The new equipment would expand sales markets to international export markets.

By keeping operating costs low, and increasing profits from international markets, Sarafinchan said that the facility will increase returns for growers.


@Rangers_mom
Jacqueline.Gelineau@kelownacapnews.com

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