Bulk Okanagan apples are headed south of the border for the first time this fall, and taking local jobs with them.
Jeff Bryde is a forklift operator for an independent packing house and is concerned that a new trend of exportation may mean tougher times ahead for local fruit packers.
Currently, growers have only three options when it comes to selling bulk apples: They can send them to the BC Fruit Co-op packing house, they can send them to an independent packing house or they can send them to Washington State.
“I personally know of at least two large growers that are shipping their fruit to Washington State for the first time this year,” said Jeff, who has worked with Okanagan fruit for almost 40 years.
“This will be a test. They will see how things work out and if they can make a better return on their fruit down south, then more and more growers will do the same next year.”
This is the first year Jeff has packed bulk Okanagan apples bound for U.S. packing houses.
Growers who have taken this step are hopeful that sending their fruit south will mean more profit, but will not know for sure until the end of the season if the move is financially advantageous. One variable in the equation is shipping costs.
“We’ve been shipping out since two weeks ago,” says Jeff. “If this opens up the door for more Washington State packing houses to take bulk apples from the Okanagan, then local packing houses will suffer.”
“I worked at a packing house for 38 years and they’re taking jobs away from Canadians. Any time jobs here go south, it’s a concern. I don’t agree with what we’re doing but we have to pay the bills. Personally, I’d rather keep the jobs here in BC.”
Jeff sees provincial legislation as the only way forward.
“I don’t know if you can change things without government regulation.”
“The last few years, prices have been really, really low,” continues Jeff. “BC Tree Fruits have to make it worthwhile for these growers to come back. The only way that will happen is if they make a good return on their apples.”
“Either more growers will do this or they will figure it’s not worth it. If it’s profitable for the growers, you’ll see more and more of them doing this. I just hope it’s not a trend that continues.”
Bryde was fired from his job at the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative last year. He says he was fired for publicly complaining about fruit bins being contaminated with pigeon feces.
The Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative issued a statement acknowledging Bryde had indeed been fired while strongly disagreeing with his claims in regards to the bins.