BC Tree Fruit growers force meeting over Lake Country plant closure

Growers force meeting

The BC Tree Fruits Cooperative board of directors and CEO are in for another fight over the closure of its Lake Country packinghouse and proposed move to an upgraded facility in Oliver.

All BC Tree Fruit growers have been invited to a special general meeting set for Nov. 22.

BC Tree Fruits CEO and president Warren Sarafinchan says the meeting on Nov. 22 will be to deal with motions to potentially remove the existing board and "undoing part of the governance changes that were implemented in 2020."

That could also mean putting real estate sales on hold and not moving forward with the proposed investments in the Oliver packinghouse and possibly go as far aa re-opening the Lake Country packinghouse.

West Kelowna grower and cooperative member Parm Saini is one of the more vocal members against the closure of the Lake Country facility and some of the recent moves made by the CEO and board.

"We want transparency, we have lost confidence in the CEO and the board of directors. We want them to show the growers the financials, we feel they have dropped the ball on where the membership is on this issue."

Sarafinchan says there have already been multiple meetings, including one on Sept. 1, which was disrupted by protesting members of the cooperative.

Just 25 signatures are needed to force a special meeting and Sarafinchan says that number represents a small number of BC Tree Fruits Growers.

"It represents a small percentage of the total membership. So we have close to 220 voting members and we think there are about 34 members who are opposed to the proposed moves," said Sarafinchan.

"We're certainly asking growers and members that do have questions to reach out to us. Because what is critical right now is that our growers and members have factual information."

Sarafinchan says the BC Tree Fruits cooperative has made dramatic improvements in the business, "this is another step in the evolution. The decision was made in the best interest of every single member of the cooperative, not just a part of the cooperative."

Sarafinchan says he and the board did not make the decision to close the Lake Country plan lightly, and growers will be able to voice their opinions at the meeting later this month.

"This is about giving all members, whether you're a grower from the north or a grower from the south or from the Similkameen — all growers have an opportunity to come out and vote on these resolutions."

"The focus of our board and management has been to increase returns for our growers as quickly as we possibly can. I have heard consistently since I joined the cooperative in September 2019, growers need the returns that we pay, which essentially is their revenue," Sarafinchan added.

Sarafinchan also says the cooperative simply can no longer afford to operate two packinghouses, "one of the two facilities, unfortunately, is no longer required. If we would have closed the Oliver facility there would have been a similar number of people who no longer had jobs, and we would still be moving fruit."

Saini, meanwhile, points to decreasing apple yields in the Okanagan and fewer and fewer members in the cooperative as a problem that needs to be addressed. He says the board time the closure announcement to when growers were busy with harvest.

He claims he has been unable to get answers and information about the closure since it was announced.

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