By Lyonel Doherty
The regional district has given the green light to a non-farm use application in the Agricultural Land Reserve in rural Osoyoos.
But many would argue that the application is no doubt for farm use because the idea is to give other farmers more packing options.
Harjeewan and Jasvir Sandhu are proposing to establish a fruit packing and storage facility on 128th Avenue to handle a majority of produce from off-site growers.
The owners say not only will the facility handle their own farm products but will provide a valuable service to other growers affected by last year’s closure of the BC Tree Fruits packinghouse (located near the subject property).
After the closure, many Osoyoos growers called on BC Tree Fruits to establish a local drop-off location so that they wouldn’t have to transport their fruit to the packinghouse in Oliver. However, the board voted not to establish a drop-off, but instead offered growers compensation for travel expenses.
Technically, the Sandhu application is a non-farm use proposal in the ALR because more than 50 per cent of the product will originate off site. Therefore, final approval must be given by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
Jeff Thompson, intern planner for the regional district, said utilizing the existing cold storage facility on the property will meet a potential need for services following the closure of the old packinghouse.
Thompson said no additions or expansions are proposed on the property since the facility already exists.
Sam DiMaria from BC Tree Fruits could not be reached for comment on the application.
But Area A director Mark Pendergraft said if the regional board had thought the application should not be approved, it wouldn’t have been forwarded to the ALC with their stamp of approval.
“I support the application as I do see it as good overall for agriculture.”
Pendergraft added that with the closing of BC Tree Fruits in Osoyoos, it either forces growers to haul farther up the valley at greater expense, or build their own packinghouse, which doesn’t make financial sense for most smaller ochardists.
“So having another option locally to do the packing will give growers choices and they can determine what will work best for them.”
Brad Elenko, agent for the applicants, totally agreed, saying the proposal gives Osoyoos growers another option to pack their fruit locally, which is a good thing.
Elenko said the applicants are not circumventing any rules but merely “picking up the slack” since the closure of the BC Tree Fruits facility.
“They’re helping out growers that need a place to take their fruit . . . at the end of the day it’s a farming operation.”
Elenko said the ALC approved the existing packinghouse on the property several years ago, and so it was built with surplus capacity that wasn’t being used. But now the idea is to use that capacity to assist local farmers.