It has been almost five years in the making but Canadian Nectar Products has its first crop of apples ready for the commercial market.

To celebrate the occasion, company officials held a ceremonial apple picking event at the company fields in Alliston, with Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Alan McIsaac picking the first apples as company officials and investors from as far away as India and Dubai looked on.

Discussions about creation what is already the Island’s largest apple orchard began in 2013 and Canadian Nectar Products purchased its first 150 acres in June of 2014. They have now expanded to over 230 acres but company president Kamalpreet Khaira admits internal problems within the company delayed the ramp up of the operation last year and has led to the product being branded under the Fruits Canada label.

One of the people charged with turning the situation around is Rod Steenburgen, who has relocated from Ontario to become farm manager. Rod has been involved with the apple industry for most of his adult life and has contracted with Kirk Kemp (one of the largest apple producers in the country) to market the company’s apples in Ontario.

“Our apples are about two or three weeks behind the Ontario apples so we are hoping the demand will be good,” he said.

The company also grew some pears this year as well and Rod said they are being marketed through Belliveau Orchard in New Brunswick. He predicted this year’s harvest would be in the range of 200 bins of fruit, but he is predicting that will climb to approximately 2000 bins in 2018.

As for the condition of the crop, he termed it “excellent” Rod admitted he did not have an Island frame of reference since this is the first season he has been here but added “if this is climate change than bring it on. The apples look great and we are here on October 25 in shirt sleeves.”

Steenburgen said there are ten full-time employees at the operation, adding that workforce has increased as picking ramps up. He frankly admitted there should have been a harvest last year but preferred to focus on the future rather than the past. He added “I am not here to fill jobs, I am here to establish jobs.”

That sentiment is shared by the company president. He said the long range plan is to ramp up to 1,000 acres (which translates into 15,000-20,000 trees) with the establishment of an export division to send product to Europe. Kamalpreet explained there is a strong and growing market in Europe, especially with the implementation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, and his company is committed to taking full advantage of those opportunities.

The company also hopes to eventually establish a packing plant. Khaira added the company is price competitive with major importers like Washington states and British Columbia.

“We want to make PEI a world capital for apples and fruit,” he said “We have had some challenges to be sure but we think this is the best place to be.”

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