One of the region’s best-kept secrets — despite being within plain sight of the Trans-Canada Highway east of Cache Creek — is probably PRT Growing Services (formerly Silvagro), which has been growing seedlings by the Thompson River for more than 20 years, and which is always looking for local seasonal workers.
The facility provides forest seedlings for the tree-planting industry, growing the trees that planters put in the ground each year from Southern B.C. through to Quesnel and Prince George.
Eighty per cent of the seedlings grown at the Juniper Beach facility are purchased by the Ministry of Forests, and consist of larch, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, and spruce, says site manager Mike Belicic. “These trees are in high demand, and because of the nature of our site at Juniper Beach these are the ones that grow very well.
“PRT is one of 30 tree seedling nurseries in North America, and is the largest grower of forest seedlings in North America,” he adds. “Juniper Beach isn’t the largest facility, but is the 10th or 11th largest in North America.”
He says that this year alone, Juniper Beach will grow 20 million trees. “Last year we grew 24 million. We have a much larger capacity than that, but we only grow as many as we have orders for.”
Belicic notes that Juniper Beach has its own micro climate. “Even if it’s raining in Ashcroft or Cache Creek or Logan Lake or Kamloops, Juniper Beach will have nothing. It’s much hotter there than the area around it, and has a lot of sun. There’s almost no precipitation, but we get our water from the Thompson, which is a unique combination for trees: lots of sun and lots of water.”
He adds that this unique combination dictates what type of seedlings are grown at the site. “You have to be careful about where seeds are grown. You don’t want to grow trees [at Juniper] that will be planted in a humid climate.”
Work at the site goes in cycles, with the seeds planted in April and May; this year’s crop is already from two to eight centimetres tall. Summer is the “calm months”, and September is also very quiet. The trees will have stopped growing by the end of that month, reaching heights of eight to 20 centimetres, at which time they were ready to be “lifted”. That’s when they get taken out of their containers, sorted, wrapped, and put in boxes, a process that goes from October through December. The seedlings are then stored at -2 C until planting season, which is from April through June.
Along with the planting season in the spring, the “lifting” season is a time when the facility wants to rely on locals for work, says Belicic.
“From mid-October to mid-December we really want local people to be around and be a part of it, get them involved in seasonal work. It’s nowhere near as difficult as tree planting, and is pretty relaxed; it’s not demanding physical work.
“The same with sowing the seeds from when we start in mid-April to the end of May: that’s when all the seeds are put in their containers for the summer to grow. Basically, a team takes all the containers of seeds and lays them out in an open compound so they can be watered and grown through the summer, and they’ll be the seedlings that tree planters will plant next year.”
Belicic adds that the Juniper Beach facility also has full-time positions, everything from general labour and equipment operators to growers. “High quality local people who are around all year is key.
“Our goal is to engage local people, communities, and companies, and let people know about business opportunities with us that are long-term, so we don’t have to keep outsourcing.”
Anyone who would like to learn more about opportunities at PRT can contact Belicic at email@example.com.