TORONTO — Owners of a new apple processing plant and juice facility east of Toronto have won the latest outstanding achievement award from the Ontario Produce Marketing Association.

Co-owners Kirk Kemp and Mike Gibson are the third and fourth generation of their families to grow apples on the north shore of Lake Ontario. In the past decade, they’ve made privately-owned Newcastle, Ontario-based Algoma Orchards Ltd. one of the largest and fully-integrated apple companies in Canada.

“Farming’s tough,” said Kemp, “but you’ve got to have the courage to pound ahead and do your best.”

Canada group recognizes Toronto apple processor

Courtesy Algoma Orchards

The Ontario Produce Marketing Association honored Algoma Orchards with an outstanding achievement award. The plant near Toronto process apples into cider.

The 100,000-square-foot processing plant, which opened last summer, triples the company’s size and capacity, Kemp said.

Its star attraction is a French MAF Industries sorter, which eliminates hand-sorting by taking 50 electronic pictures of each apple as it moves by on cups, and can sort 42 apples a second for size, color and defects.

Using water-flume technology, the system also identifies up to 22 grades per variety then gently deposits the apples into 850-pound bins, which are stored in climate-controlled rooms until needed.

Kemp said the plant, which is surrounded by orchards, also includes a water recycling plant “because we don’t have a ton of water in the country.”

It can recycle 24,000 gallons of water back to a drinkable state in just over two hours.

Since Algoma’s apples are now pre-sized and graded before being put back into containers for storage, they’re only taken out as needed.

“We end up with fresher apples, lower inventory for packed apples, quicker response to customer needs and quicker turn-around time,” he said.

Technology has also made life easier for employees by removing a lot of heavy lifting.

“Even though we’ve bought automated equipment, business has expanded so we now have more employees than we had last year and twice as many as 10 years ago,” he said, “probably 120 full-timers and more than 200 with seasonal help.”

Algoma sells most of its hand-picked apples to Ontario chain stores, he said, and packed one million boxes last year.

Fruit that doesn’t make the grade rolls straight into the new 17,000-square-foot juice plant next door, which averages 100,000 liters a week of pasteurized apple cider year-round, Kemp said.

The plant opened in November.