Fruit fight divides growers

A dispute surrounding where and how Okanagan orchardists sell their fruit has broken out between the President of the BC Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA) and the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative (OTFC).

On Thursday, the OTFC announced that Kirpal Boparai, grower and President of the BC Fruit Growers Association, no longer has a contract or membership with the cooperative and is not shipping any of his fruit to them.

“All growers within the Co-op are obligated to follow the terms and conduct outlined in their contract,” says Gary Schieck, OTFC CEO.

“The action to end this membership was a decision made by the Board of Directors due to a breach of terms within the contract.”

Boparai says he and other growers are fed up with OTFC and that he has no choice but to sell his fruit where he sees fit.

"All we have an issue with is the packing houses, not just for me but for a lot of growers. They're having a poor return to the growers and there is a lot of mismanagement that is costing us a lot of money. The growers are fed up with that and therefore...some of the people (growers) have cancelled their contract and they are shipping to Ontario and the packing house has an issue with that. Well, that's too bad."

It was Boparai's decision not to honour the contract with the OTFC that led to the decision to cut ties with the BCFGA President.

"We have three different types of contracts," says BC Tree Fruits Marketing Manager Chris Pollack. "There is two that are related to soft fruit, like cherries, peaches and nectarines, that sort of thing, and one that's related to apples and pears."

Pollack adds that if a grower signs an apple contract they are obligated to ship 100 per-cent of their fruit to the Co-op.

"By having our growers do that, we are able to then create our estimates of what our crop size is going to be and that allows our sales team to reach out to our retailers in order to build a program for them for the year."

Boparai argues that as a grower he is not benefiting from the existing contract and that the market should determine where the fruit should go.

"We will sell fruit where ever we get the highest return. The growers need to make money...they need to gets some funds back to them. Co-op is the problem...the overhead's so huge the growers don't make any money. The fruits got to go out to the market where it pays," says Boparai.

"Why is Co-op fighting with that? Because they have an interest to keep their jobs. If we run out of fruit early, good for us. If we're getting lots of return, why would you put it in (storage) for 10 months and throw half the fruit away if you've got a good market going?"

Boparai also says he and his fellow growers have not been able to make a profit for the last four years and he blames the Co-op.

"I can't support Co-op if they are going to starve growers to death. If people have to, they will open up their own packinghouse. Co-op (has to) smarten up and start listening to the growers. You can't blame the growers for leaving the Coop. The only reason people are leaving the Co-op is they're not doing what they're supposed to do."

For their part, the OTFC strongly disagrees with Boparai's position

“I certainly appreciate the dedication and expertise of the management team, their respective departments, and all employees across the organization, especially in this complex industry. We recognize the results are not always satisfactory to all growers, but we strive to maximize their returns in areas that are within our control, and have strategies for continual improvement,” says Schieck.

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