August 29, 2017 8:59 pm

Osoyoos fruit growers protest looming packinghouse closure

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It’s the end of an era for the fruit industry in the south Okanagan.

After more than 80 years of operation, the BC Tree Fruits Cooperative is closing its 96,000 square-foot packing house in Osoyoos at the end of this season’s operations.

The move has inflamed local growers who are organizing in opposition of the closure.

Owner of Rai Produce, Sarabjit Rai, grows nectarines, peaches, apples and cherries.

He said he is opposed to the distributor consolidating its operations at its Oliver packing house.

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“This is not the right decision to shut it down,” he said.

Rai recently organized a protest outside the Osoyoos packing house.

Several orchardists signed a petition opposing the closure.

Some growers said they don’t have the time or the resources to truck their fruit to Oliver, 20 kilometres away.

Others are concerned that the longer commute in hot temperatures could damage their product.

“Soft fruit like mostly cherries and peaches are a hard time to take to Oliver,” Rai said.

The distributor said it’s looking at the possibility of an Osoyoos receiving station to address members’ concerns.

“Our senior management group as well as our board of directors will definitely look at options in order to accommodate those growers,” said marketing manager Chris Pollock.

But some orchardists are threatening to pull out of the co-op if it goes through with the closure.

“If they shut it down we’re going to quit,” Rai quipped.

The BC Tree Fruits Cooperative said their 42 Osoyoos employees will transfer to the Oliver packing house and it isn’t expecting significant job losses.

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