A Canadian pension fund has purchased one of Washington’s leading apple producers and a major Mid-Columbia employer.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan bought Broetje Orchards from founders Ralph and Cheryl Broetje in a deal that closed in late December.

Broetje employs more than 2,800 at peak times across the state in growing and processing apples and cherries on 6,175 acres.

It is reportedly one of the largest privately-owned orchards in the U.S., producing 7 million boxes of apples a year, including its proprietary Opal apple.

The Toronto-based fund will operate the company, including its marketing and housing arms, under the First Fruits brand.

The total purchase price has not been disclosed.

But the real estate part of the sale was valued at $288 million, according to the excise tax affidavit filed with the Washington Department of Revenue and posted to the Walla Walla County Assessor’s website.

That part of the sale yielded more than $4.4 million in excise taxes, including $720,400 to local government.

The deal covers Broetje’s orchard properties, FirstFruits Marketing of Washington LLC and Snake River Housing Inc.

It does not include Tierra Vida, a 251-lot residential and commercial property on Pasco’s A Street, or the Broetje’s nonprofit Center for Sharing in Franklin County.

Grows apples at Snake River

The orchard operations, including a massive packing house, are centered near Prescott, along Fishhook Park Road on the Walla Walla County side of the Snake River.

Jim Hazen, a former Broetje Orchards executive, was named president and chief executive of the new company. In January, Hazen told AgriInvestor it would continue to invest in producing quality apples and investing in its people.

Hazen pledged to make the transition seamless for Broetje employees.

“The success of the company over the years has been due in large part to the dedication of our employees. Our future success also depends on them. We are working to avoid disrupting any services or programs for our employees or our customers,” he said in a statement.

Cheryl and Ralph Broetje established the orchard business in the late 1960s, infusing it with their faith. The couple are known for their substantial philanthropic contributions to the community.

Teacher fund likes food investments

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, with about $194 billion Canadian dollars under management or US $146 billion, invests in a variety of asset classes, including real estate, farmland and food production.

Its food-related investments include Aroona Farms, an almond grower in Australia, Atlantic Aqua Farms, a Prince Edward Island blue mussels producer, AustinOn Corp., which manages agricultural assets in Australia and Goldcrest Farm, which acquires and manages row crop farmland in the U.S.

They also have invested in Jasper Farms, which grows avocados in Australia, and Woodspur, an organic date producer with operations in California and Arizona.

The pension plan provides defined benefit pension services to about 323,000 retired and working teachers.

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