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Dissent among Okanagan growers puts gains by tree fruits cooperative at risk

Image Credit: FREEIMAGES

Fifteen per cent of B.C. Tree Fruits Cooperative members have joined together to force a special general meeting next week.

At the core of their concerns are plans to close the Lake Country processing plant and move operations to an expanded facility in Oliver.

If they manage to dominate the special meeting, it could negate some of the financial gains the organization has made in recent years, CEO Warren Sarafinchan told, Nov. 14.

“I think it’s important for members to recognize that changing the path that we’re on will slow down the progress that the cooperative has made and that’s going to slow the improvement in returns that they need,” he said.

READ MORE: B.C. Tree Fruits plant closing Lake Country location, moving to South Okanagan

In 2019, the cooperative was carrying too much debt so changes were implemented at the 2020 annual general meeting.

“Over the past two years, the cooperative has changed the momentum of the business and we’re now moving in the right direction,” Sarafinchan said. “It’s important for members to recognize the increases in returns that have been delivered, the fact the debt has moved down to something that is very manageable.”

The dissidents are putting forward motions that call for the removal of the entire board of directors, putting an end to all real estate deals and overturn key motions from the 2020 annual general meeting.

No motions were made at the 2021 annual general meeting to overturn the 2020 decisions, Sarafinchan said.

There are no real estate deals that are in jeopardy if that motion is passed, he said. The $24 million sale of its building next to the Tolko mill site has been completed and is not at risk.

READ MORE: $24M sale of Kelowna waterfront property will trigger hundreds of millions in economic impact

It only takes 10% of the cooperative’s 217 membership to force a special meeting so only 22 were needed to force the meeting and 34 of the members signed. It takes two-thirds of those in attendance to pass motions.

Sarafinchan is encouraging as many members as possible to attend the special meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 22 at the Peachland Community Centre.

“Given the significant impact on the cooperative, it’s imperative that voting members first and foremost understand the rationale for the decision to move to Oliver, ensure that they understand facts and set aside rumour and speculation and then come out to have their vote and have their say because it’s their cooperative,” he said.

The demand for the special meeting has already forced the postponement of this year’s annual general meeting, normally held in November. It’s now been moved to Dec. 12.

Each year there’s a staggered election so that the entire board is not changed.

If they are all removed at next week’s special meeting theoretically they could all run again at the Dec. 12 annual meeting.

The announcement that the Lake Country plant would close at the end of October was made in August, sparking protests at that time.

“We met with growers across the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys many times, both live, on Zoom as well as countless one-on-one meetings with growers,” Sarafinchan said. “We do have some members that have expressed some concern and feel the special general meeting is the path they want to take to find a solution from their vantage point.”

In terms of shipping fruit from the Central and North Okanagan to Oliver, the cooperative has run tests and found there was no damage done to apples during shipment. Sarafinchan said the extra shipping costs are far outweighed by the benefits of a centralized packing operation.

"There are other packing houses in the Okanagan valley that move fruit from the north to the south and others moving from the south to the north,” he said. “What we’re doing is not unusual. Others are doing it and in Washington State this is very common.”

Between 50% and 60% of apples in the region are processed through B.C. Tree Fruits.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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