By Lyonel Doherty
Engineers are worth their weight in gold, but in Oliver, it’s in the fruit.
Today, BC Tree Fruits took the Chronicle and the CBC on a tour of its new state-of-the-art packing and production line (for peaches and apples).
Everyone in the Co-op Avenue facility is quite excited to show off the $3.5 million line that is now packing 300 peaches per minute.
According to maintenance and technical manager Kevin Barker, it’s the first hybrid packing line in Canada that handles both apples and peaches.
He explained the technology involved, including a machine called Spectrim that automatically sorts every piece of fruit by size and quality. Multiple photographs are taken of each fruit, and these pictures are displayed on a computer screen that shows any imperfections the fruit may have. They are then graded and sorted accordingly. The machine can event pinpoint blemishes beneath the skin of apples.
“It’s state of the art technology that you don’t see anywhere else in B.C.,” said marketing manager Chris Pollock.
The new production line saw the first bins of fruit processed last weekend, utilizing some of the most efficient grading technology in Canada. Approximately 75 unionized workers are employed at the packinghouse.
“We are excited to bring this technology to our grower members,” said Director of Operations Peter Hoffman. “This new packing line utilizes an optical sorter that has advanced machine-learning capabilities that revolutionizes the sorting process.”
Hoffman noted the results will allow them to colour map, grade and defect-sort fruit with increased accuracy.
Stan Swales, BC Tree Fruits chief executive officer, said the new line gives them the ability to continue to meet consumers’ expectations of premium fruit.
With the closure of the Osoyoos packinghouse last year, BC Tree Fruits is planning on long-term cost savings by having everything, and everyone, under one roof in the South Okanagan. In fact, the co-op has utilized some equipment from the Osoyoos facility, which is now being used in Oliver, such as the de-stacker assembly unit.
The closure of their packinghouse was quite concerning to many Osoyoos growers. There was hope that BC Tree Fruits would establish a drop-off location in Osoyoos so that growers wouldn’t have to truck their product to Oliver during the busy picking season. But that idea never came to fruition.
Pollock said the board voted not to establish a drop-off point but did approve to compensate growers for their travel to Oliver. This compensation will be in place for two years.