Just a few years ago, a number of Okanagan farmers were clambering to get away from B.C. Tree Fruits, ringing alarm bells about its shaky future.
Now the packinghouse, which includes operations in Lake Country, has regained the confidence of its growers and is on such a solid footing that it’s in the enviable position of picking and choosing who it will form bonds with.
Alan Tyabji, B.C. Tree Fruits chief executive officer, says that on Dec. 31, 2015, the organization cancelled all the pre-existing, one-year contracts held with apple growers.
Then farmers were evaluated, and new three-year contracts were struck with those who demonstrated a commitment to the organization and quality fruit.
Somewhere in the area of 20 farmers were cut in the process.
“Why? I spent $20 million upgrading (the packinghouse) and I will spend another $10 million in the next year and a half,” said Tyabji, noting he wanted to make sure that investment was being made on behalf of farmers who demonstrated the same kind of commitment.
And today, B.C. Tree Fruits is making money.
“Growers who were struggling are now able to reinvest in their orchards,” said Tyabj.
A big contribution to higher profits is the co-op’s cider company, Broken Ladder.
It’s meant that apples that were once only good for juice making can now be sold for more money to the cidery.
Broken Ladder is now using pears and Tyabji has plans to incorporate cherries and peaches, in the future.
And B.C. Tree Fruits won’t stop innovating there, he says.
Tyabji said Okanagan College is looking at value-added products around the world and assessing what works and what doesn’t.
That could lead to a whole series of new opportunities, all of which will be aimed at ensuring the farmers who work with the packinghouse are well served.
“The fruit business is the type of business where you need to understand fruit and the market and need to make a commitment to doing it right,” he said.
B.C. Tree Fruits, which is focused on promoting and packaging, is part of the B.C. Tree Fruits Co-operative, which is owned by more than 500 Okanagan grower families.