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Lally Farms

Berry farmer big on the benefits of sustainable building design

Mary Frances Hill

Behind the humble B.C. berry lies a tale of ambition, a hardy work ethic, and the fresh creativity that a new generation can bring to a family business.

It is the story of Rajinder Lally, a leading berry farmer who started in the 1970s with nothing, and stands now with more than 26,000 feet of indoor space and employing 400 people in high season.

While he shepherds a thriving business that imports its products around the world, he looks to his family to continue tradition — and make a profit.

In 2000, Lally and co. opened up its first refrigerated fruit storage facility at Lally Farms in Abbotsford. With the new premises came a huge step into the global market, as frozen berries could be exported worldwide. It took the company into a new stage of physical growth, and a necessary one, considering business was expanding at about 20 per cent a year.

However, "the refrigeration systems we had [in the original building] are not very energy-efficient," says Rajinder Lally, owner and patriarch of the Lally Group Inc. "The power use and the compression are not controlled very well and it uses a lot of power to get the cooling effect."

Recently, the Lally family opened the doors to another facility, at 16,000 square feet. But not before a thorough energy audit, a survey in cooperation with BC Hydro that ultimately helped the company save a surprising 48 per cent in energy costs, or about 837,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year in the new cold fruit storage facility.

To recognize the effort, BC Hydro named Lally Farms Inc. of Abbotsford a finalist for a Power Smart Excellence Award for Innovation in Sustainable Building Design. Best of all, the company will save more than $41,000 a year in electricity costs because of its commitment to energy efficiency.

"We talked to BC Hydro, got the study done and then we went with every one of their recommendations," says Lally. "It was a wonderful experience. It didn't take as long as we thought it would. Once everything was in place, it was done within a few months. We were very pleased with it."

The savings surprised him, he says.

"We kept in mind that when we built a new storage, we would make it very efficient. Our goal was to save at least 40 per cent. With help from BC Hydro and with new technology we were able to achieve 48 per cent."

That was just one of a series of achievements for the Lally family and for Rajinder, who arrived in Canada in 1972, and initially worked as a lumber roller in Merritt. He was promoted to supervisor within five years, but it wasn't enough for the new immigrant, who harboured an impatience, and a great entrepreneurial spirit.

"I always wanted to do something on my own," he says. "I heard stories about (farming) berries and I thought, 'let's get into farming growing berries.'"

In 1978, he bought 15 acres in Abbotsford and planted raspberries. He kept his lumberman's job for a full four years while he tried to get Lally Farms off the ground. By 1982, he was able to quit his job in the lumber industry. But he kept things fresh: by 1984, the Lally Group's fresh blueberries and raspberries were being shipped to grocery stores.

Then in 2000 the international market grew and he started freezing and exporting berries. As the industry embraces new technology, Rajinder Lally looks to his wife, two sons and daughter-in-law as key to new innovations, and the company's future as a sustainable enterprise.

It was they who had a burgeoning knowledge of sustainability and the environment. And it was they who gave him the idea for an energy audit for the new refrigerated facility, he says. "They're fully involved. All five of us are devoted to the business."

What's next for the Lally group? More expansion, and great expectations. They're currently eyeing the original 10,000 square foot facility built in 2000 with an eye to modernize it by 2010. Again, they'll be reaching for another 40%, of energy savings.

And yes, they'll be calling on BC Hydro to meet their goal.