As its name suggests, Day’s Century Growers of downtown Kelowna has a long history in the BC farming community. The Okanagan Valley property has been operated by the Day family since the late 1800s, and three generations of the family currently operate the farm together.
Faced with an uncertain future for their pear crop ten years ago, the family took a leap of faith and built their own pear packing plant. Three years ago, they went into overdrive with new technologies, and since then they’ve found that their spirit of innovation is also bringing new hope to others in the local pear industry.
“Pears have always been our main concern, but it’s been a real struggle,” said Kevin Day, who co-owns the farm with his sister, Karen Day. Their father, Ernie Day, bought the farm from his uncle in 1954.
The first pear orchard was planted on their family farm in the 1920s. Today they grow green and red Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc and a few Harrow Crisp pears, as well as a variety of vegetables and corn sweet. Over the years, they added woodland and generated logging revenue, built up a herd of cattle, and began selling their produce directly to their farm market.
“It was a way to branch out and have income to get things going,” Kevin said.
But in 2011, they could see that with the feedback received from the local cooperative, BC Tree Fruits, their pear business was still not viable. “It was unsustainable for us, so it was either selling off some of our heritage land or changing direction,” Kevin said.
In 2012, after crunching all the numbers, they decided to build a packing station and storage space on their farm. “We were spending a lot of money on building and cooling, so we kind of got low on our packing machine,” Kevin said. The original two-way equipment helped them achieve their goal of improving their quality and cost control, but it was “very basic” and had too many height transitions – which meant more scratching and rougher handling of the fruit, especially later in the season, he says.
So in 2019 they installed a three-way Van Wamel Perfect Uni-Grader with a Burg unloader and an Ellips optical sorting system – all made in the Netherlands specifically for pears.
“I don’t think there’s a machine in the world that handles pears more gently,” Kevin said.
When they built their packing plant, they also contracted with Consolidated Fruit Packers, owned by Star Produce, to market their pears. The new partnership offered the option to begin packaging their Anjous at Star’s Galaxy warehouse in Calgary, Alberta.
More pears, more profit
Canada produces about 15% of the pears it consumes, and most of that volume is grown in the Benvoulin region, a few miles from Day’s Century Growers. The Days farm is the second largest pear grower in British Columbia, and with the expansion and modernization of their packing line, Kevin said his goal is to pack even more.
Allen Reid has been bringing his pears to the Days packaging line for nine years. Reid owns Hazeldell Orchards, the region’s third-largest pear producer. The farm originally had a few hazelnut trees, hence its name, and in the past supported a mixed farm, but the land is now fully planted with fruit trees.
“In my opinion, this is one of the best soils for growing pears in British Columbia,” Reid said.
After many years of low yields on his pears, Reid said he was considering selling the family farm, which his grandparents bought in 1903. But with his pear profits rising every year since 2013, he has to hope.
“I now see a bright future for pears grown in the Benvoulin region,” he said. “Maybe one of our four children or seven grandchildren will tend our orchard for years.”
Offering the best pear packing system available in the region, Day’s Century Growers has the capacity to handle up to 10,000 bins in one season. “I wouldn’t want to do more than that, and there’s not much in BC,” Kevin said.
The local co-op focuses on apples and recently opted to separate its growers’ apple and pear contracts, giving them the option to package their pears with the Days’ new technology, Kevin said.
“We will probably be packing close to 2,000 bins from Bartletts (this fall) and probably 6,000 from Anjou,” he said. “That will be pretty much all of them.” And with that, Kevin said he needed to add another row and more storage.
About a mile up the road from Day’s Century Growers is the province’s largest pear grower: Kalsam Orchards, co-owned by Kevin’s cousin, Steve Day.
“I think it’s a good way to shore up some of our pear operations in the valley,” Steve said. “We are neighbors — and we are related. Sometimes we admit it, sometimes not. »
Steve’s brother, Mike Day, co-owns and operates the farm with him. His son, Gavin, recently started working full-time in the orchard after earning a degree in business management. Steve’s wife, Dawna, and mother, Ann, are also involved in the farm.
They have about 60 acres of pears — mostly Anjou and Bartlett. They also have about 60 acres of apples, but Steve likes the stability of the pear varieties. “You’re not constantly replanting and chasing varieties like you do in the apple business,” he said.
2021 was the first year he brought his Anjous to Kevin to pack and sell. This year he will also bring his Bartletts.
While Kevin expands the line, Steve will construct a small climate-controlled storage building on his farm, he said. His decision to leave the co-op was made with sustainability in mind.
“It was important to have someone who was really focused on the future of our Anjou culture,” Steve said. “The Bartletts are great sellers and people like to buy Bartletts. If we can get that interest generated around pre-conditioned Anjou, Anjous can also be very profitable.
Stable and increasing
As in other pear-growing regions, pear acreage in British Columbia has generally declined in recent years, but for growers bringing fruit to its new lineup, that acreage is “steady and growing,” he said. Kevin.
With the additional packing volume from other growers, he does not plan to expand his own acreage.
“We have young blocks coming in, but we’ve asked our farm to keep our volume as it is,” he said, although they are considering different varieties and share hope for a gate. -dwarf graft. who will survive their winters.
Overall, Kevin is happy with the pears he can produce in the area.
“On my Bartletts, in a block, I have 72 bins per acre on 16 by 7 1/2,” Kevin said. “For Bartletts, for our region, this is unheard of.” In some of his new Anjou blocks, he had over 90 bins per acre, “but I will always have around 70,” he said.
And he’s very happy with their decision to invest in the packing plant — and the future he sees for the local pear industry. He is not the only one.
“It’s exciting with a bit of change going on, and change invigorates you,” Steve said. “Kevin and Karen thought about going out on their own in 2012 because they had the most beautiful pears in the valley, and they wanted to make sure they enjoyed it.”
This leap of faith has also proven to be a benefit to other local pear growers.
—by Jonelle Mejica