Orchard industry embarks on multi-million dollar upgrade in Okanagan

Federal-provincial funding will help get the latest technology into the co-operative's Winfield fruit packinghouse.

Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan announces funding to upgrade fruit grower facilities while provincial agriculture minister Don McRae

With allocation of first phase funding of $2.7 million from the federal/provincial AgriFlex fund, the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative will embark on a $44 million infrastructure modernization, beginning with its Winfield plant.

This first project will cost $5.25 million to engineer and install a state-of-the-art brine chilling and cooler system for the Controlled Atmosphere storage facilities.

It’s the first such system to be put into use in Canada, but there are a couple in use in the Eastern U.S. and in European apple-producing regions.

OTFC operations manager Rod Vint said the innovative system “quickly and efficiently puts apples to sleep.”

It chills much faster than the current ammonia system does, is more environmentally-friendly and uses less energy, so it’s estimated there will be annual savings of $340,000, as well as increasing the quality of apples that have been stored there, so that more will go to market. “Consumers want the perfect apple,” he commented.

“There’s more accurate control of the temperature in each room,” he explained.

About a quarter of the co-op’s storage in the valley is at the Winfield plant, which contains some of the most modern equipment in the valley.

“We want to become a lean manufacturing company. We’re looking to the future,” commented Vint.

The funding allocation was announced during the 123rd annual convention of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association in Kelowna Friday, by Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan and B.C. agriculture minister Don McRae.

It will be another year before the engineering is complete, and then several months to install it.

The funding is part of $5 million in money announced two years ago from the federal-provincial AgriFlex program, but not all of that has yet been allocated to specific projects. There’s still $1.86 million left of that funding.

“As the recently-released final report from the Tree Fruit Working Group pointed out, modern packinghouses will result in more efficient operations and better position B.C. apple growers to compete in domestic and international markets,” said McRae.

“The province is committed to work with industry on the findings of the Tree Fruit Industry Working Group to promote sustainability and profitability within the industry as a means to ensure we continue to have local and healthy foods on our tables, while also stimulating new investment and employment opportunities in our communities,” he said.

McRae told growers his government won’t be able to help out the co-op with purchase of no-longer-used properties, even if there are strategically located in Okanagan communities.

However, there is a chance that a ‘buy local’ promotional program may become a reality in the future, and he promised to work on some of the industry’s other requests to government, recommendations from the working group’s report.

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com

 

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