July 05, 2013 - 12:17 PM
KELOWNA - A "For Sale" sign now marks the BC Tree Fruits packing plant in the north end of Kelowna, but under new ownership the building could still be shipping crates of Okanagan fruit.
BC Tree Fruits marketing manager Chris Pollock says whoever purchases the building may want to rent it out.
"One potential option is we could be packing there next year as a tenant," he says.
The coop announced last week they would be shutting down their Kelowna facility by September of this year. Expensive packing costs and a bout of bad weather were two incentives for the coop to re-direct packing to the Winfield and Osoyoos plants.
"In Winfield we can produce a lot more - it's a more efficient line... We're doing upgrades to it now to make it more efficient," he says, upgrades necessary to deliver returns for local growers competing with American producers.
Packing at the 70-year-old Kelowna plant costs an extra dollar per box than the Winfield plant. If 500,000 boxes were packed in one year it would cost $500,000 - a price the coop is no longer will to pay, Pollock says. Last year's weather damaged crop further accelerated the long-planned decision to close the plant.
Last year 20,000 bins of apples were lost in the North region, including Vernon and Salmon Arm, due to unfortunate weather.
There are currently 130 unionized workers packing apples, cherries and pears at the plant and Pollock says they will continue packing cherries and pears into early fall. After that it's still undecided where those workers will go. Negotiations are underway with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union local 247.
"We are currently in discussions to come up with best possible outcome," Pollock says.
(JULIE WHITTET /InfoTel Multimedia)
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013