A series of public engagement sessions are giving BC Tree Fruits Co-op members an opportunity to comment on plans to consolidate packing operations in Oliver and sell off assets in Kelowna and Lake Country.
An in-person meeting takes place in Oliver today, with a second session set to take place in Kelowna in the days ahead.
“We will be looking to schedule an in-person meeting in the Kelowna area, hopefully next week, for our growers,” co-op vice-president, growers relations, Laurel Van Dam says.
An initial meeting with growers scheduled for Kelowna on September 1 pivoted to Zoom after Ramada Kelowna Hotel & Conference Centre staff voiced security concerns, “due to potentially disruptive protest activity.”
While the co-op has said it had provided growers “with information packages and have hosted meetings to provide an opportunity to find out more information and ask questions,” the consolidation of operations is an emotional issue.
Situated at the northern end of the Black Sage and Golden Mile wine regions, a shift away from tree fruits to grapes in the South Okanagan has supported Oliver’s long-standing claim to be “the wine capital of Canada.” Many growers see consolidation in Oliver as a shift away from where production is happening, threatening fruit quality.
Many older growers also object to the co-op’s management of members’ equity. With grower returns cruising historic lows, any threat to this equity – even with the best of intentions – stirs strong emotions.
The move to consolidate operations in the south is also raising broader concerns about the viability of the tree fruit industry in the central and north Okanagan, where the majority of apple growers are now located.
However, Kelowna staff tell Country Life in BC that media reports of the city’s efforts to retain local packing capacity are wrong, noting that the Local Government Act prohibits municipalities from providing assistance to businesses.
The province, which led an industry stabilization initiative, has not responded to a request for comment on the potential disruption the consolidation could cause.