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Most Okanagan apple growers are broke.
The farmer's cost of producing a pound of apples is 25 to 30 cents a pound.
Yet the average return to growers for the 2019 crop year is 13 cents a pound.
The return for the 2020 crop is better at around 20 cents a pound, but that still doesn't allow most growers to break even.
"We are transforming the cooperative so growers can make a living," said Warren Sarafinchan, CEO of BC Tree Fruits Cooperative.
"It's all about more money for growers and long-term sustainability for our growers."
As its name indicates, BC Tree Fruits is a cooperative owned by the 350 Okanagan growers who have their apples, cherries, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, prunes and table grapes sorted, packaged and sold by the cooperative.
In all, BC Tree Fruits packs and sells about 100 million pounds a year of fruit, the majority of it apples, to retailers and wholesalers across Canada and into the US and Asia.
Fruits are a commodity, so commodity pricing plays a big factor on how much growers get paid.
But the efficiency of the cooperative can reduce the cost of packing and selling fruit, which can contribute to growers being paid more.
"Reorganization and restructuring has allowed us to be more efficient and right-size our asset space," said Sarafinchan.
What that means is the cooperative sold its office building on Water Street in downtown Kelowna for $7.5 million and it also sold its unused packinghouse on Osoyoos for $7.5 million.
The infusions of cash has allowed the BC Tree Fruits to pay down debt and that puts the cooperative in a better position to pay growers more for their fruit.
The Apple Quality Income Assurance program also ensures that orchardists who grow certain grades and sizes of the most desirable apple varieties -- Ambrosia, Gala, Honeycrisp and Pink Lady -- get better returns.
Apples are the Okanagan's biggest cash crop and apples and orchards are intertwined in the Valley's agricultural history, economy, social fabric and tourism.
BC Tree Fruits also worked with the provincial Ministry of Agriculture to modernize and set up new governance to benefit growers.
The cooperative's in-field support program has also been reintroduced with a horticulturalist available to help growers to get the most out of their orchards and make more money.
So far, the reorganization has taken 18 months and BC Tree Fruits has dubbed the process as 'turning over a new leaf.'
"It was evident there was an opportunity to improve the trust between our growers, the board of directors and management," said Sarafinchan.
"We have committed to improved communication and transparency across all groups and continue to develop new and better tools to keep everyone informed of happenings around the cooperative."
The cooperative now has centralized packinghouses, one in Winfield and another in Oliver, and various apple cold-storage facilities up and down the Valley.
With the sale of the downtown building, office staff and management now work out of the Winfield packinghouse and a warehouse on Sexsmith Road in Kelowna.
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