Broetje Orchards

Workers at Broetje Orchards pick Fuji apples at a Walla Walla County farm near Prescott, Wash. Assets of the company have been sold to a Canadian pension fund.

PRESCOTT, Wash. — While parties involved are not commenting, government records show Broetje Orchards, of Prescott, sold to a Canadian pension fund for $288 million at the end of December.

That’s the real estate portion of the sale, which may not reflect the total purchase price.

The transaction netted the state $3.6 million and local government $720,000 in excise taxes, according to state Department of Revenue records on file at the Walla Walla County Assessor’s Office.

The purchaser is the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which provides defined benefit pension services to about 323,000 retired and working teachers. It is one of the world’s largest institutional investors with about $146 billion of investments in various assets including real estate, farmland and food production in Canada, the U.S. and overseas.

Broetje Orchards, also known as First Fruits Farms, was started by Ralph and Cheryl Broetje who bought their first cherry orchard near Benton City in 1968.

Their holdings grew to 6,175 acres of apples and cherries, mostly near Prescott, producing 7 million boxes of apples a year, including the company’s new proprietary variety, the Opal. Annual employment peaks at 2,800 people.

The sale includes the orchards, storage, packing and shipping facilities and subsidiaries First Fruits Marketing of Washington and Snake River (farmworker) Housing.

Jim Hazen, Broetje business manager, was named president and CEO of the operation, which will continue under the First Fruits brand.

In 2015, Broetje agreed to pay $2.25 million in civil penalties to end several years of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations that at one point found 1,700 unauthorized workers. Broetje issued a news release saying it agreed to pay with no admission of wrongdoing.

Broetje was among many companies sued by farmworkers for back pay of non-picking time shortly after the state Supreme Court ruled last May that farmworkers must be paid separately from harvest piece-rate pay for such time.

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