Farmers tell committee of need for deep wells

Teresa Wright
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Potato farmers Gordon McKay, left, Kevin Schurman, centre, and Jason Webster of the Innovative Farmer's Group urged a provincial committee of MLAs Thursday to lift the moratorium on deep-water wells for irrigation.

A group of potato farmers got a chance to present their more controversial side of the growing debate over deep-water irrigation Thursday, telling MLAs they believe the moratorium should be lifted.

Jason Webster, Kevin Schurman and Gordon McKenna, of the Innovative Farm Group, made a presentation to the provincial standing committee currently examining the issue of deep-water wells.

They were last in a long line of presenters Thursday in Charlottetown, all of whom firmly denounced the harms of lifting the current moratorium on the wells.

“We’re feeling a little bit like a bunny in a lion’s den, I guess, today, but at the same time we think it’s fair to have our chance to let you know what our industry and our group would have to tell you what our opinion is on irrigation,” Webster said.

They showed candid photos of potato farmers with their wives and children, playing in the snow or in front of a camper in the summer. They explained that farmers who wish to use deep-water irrigation are responsible Island producers just trying to make a living.

Irrigation would not use vast quantities of water, they argued.

“We need the water as badly as you do, we’re not one bit interested in hurting it, but if it’s there and we can use it, and use it responsibly, we would really like to be able to use it,” Webster said.

The farmers said irrigation helps their potato crops realize a better yield and turn a better profit.

They also said P.E.I. farmers are at risk of losing vital processing and table markets without the ability to guarantee quality. Just one dry week in the summer can make a major difference in size and quality.

“We need the ability to be able to supply consistent, high-quality product to keep our processors interested in staying here,” Webster told the committee.

“Both our main processors have plants in other growing regions where they’re enjoying higher yields and more consistent quality. And unfortunately, we have to beg the question, if you were in business today, how long would you stay at a higher risk, lower quality area before moving your production in your long-term plan somewhere else? If we decide to totally never lift the moratorium on high-capacity wells for irrigation, we will be taking that risk.”

The committee chamber was once again filled to capacity and even overflowing with concerned members of the public. Some even had to stand in the hallway outside the room.

A number of environmental groups made presentations, including the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance, the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation and the Green Party of P.E.I., voicing concerns over how deep-well irrigation could affect groundwater levels or potentially contaminate P.E.I.’s water supply.

All of the environmental groups called for an independent review of the data compiled by the Department of Environment showing the Island uses only a small percentage of available water.

They also called for legislation to be enacted that would regulate and protect groundwater in P.E.I.

Even local representatives of the National Farmer’s Union firmly argued the moratorium on high-capacity irrigation should be kept in place.

So did Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker.

“I am certain that when Islanders are asked whether it is worth risking the long-term health of an irreplaceable resource and the long-term security of their and their children’s access to ample water simply in order to grow bigger potatoes, they will say that it just doesn’t feel right,” Bevan-Baker said.

“It is intuitively wrong.”

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: Innovative Farm Group, Green Party, P.E.I. Watershed Alliance P.E.I. Wildlife Federation Department of Environment

Geographic location: P.E.I., Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • Observer
    March 07, 2014 - 22:10

    There is just not enough known about the impact of taking water from these deep sources. Please, please don't let this be okayed!

  • SomeSense
    March 07, 2014 - 12:33

    I think it better we take the risk that the processors leave then the risk that we destroy the most important natural resource we have. Even if there really was ample water available for their plan (which is doubtful) more water used to irrigate crops will also mean more chemicals leeching into the water table. There are other practices that should be outright banned as well like fracking but that is a subject for another post. There are also corporations out there that don’t think people should have access to the free clean water many of us do now and think only they should be allowed to provide or manage this resource for us, if you think me crazy look for the interview with the ceo of nestle, where he says as much.

  • Wayne MacKinnon
    March 07, 2014 - 10:39

    First of all I would like to say this venture is too risky and could destroy our Island with the protocol we are using to determine the facts needed to make such a monumental decision. The very future and existence of PEI is at stake here. No water, nobody can live without water. Without proper tests to assess the quality and quantity of the available water on PEI;this request should be turned over to an independent committee to ensure the proper research and studies are completed. When the data is available, an informed decision can be made. Careful consideration is required to determine potential damage to our drinking water and environment. Secondly, my research indicates healthcare scientists are studying the health problems associated with eating foods that spike our blood sugars. More and more people are becoming insulin -sensitive and developing diabetes, cancer and heart problems with the spike in insulin created from eating foods like potatoes. How much longer will people consume potatoes; french fries are even worse considering they are fried in canola oil? The mis-information regarding the PEI potato industry contributing 1 billion dollars to our micro economy is not accurate. The majority of the money ends up off Island and does very little to grow our economy or create a tax base to pay for healthcare problems it creates; as well as our education requirements. Finally I would like to leave food for thought; "Mankind will not destroy Mother Earth, man can only destroy their ability to live on Mother Earth." Mother Earth is a living cathedral,with real feelings and needs; she must have harmony and balance, she can shake Mankind off her back like a dog shaking ticks off their back. She has many ways to do this, earthquakes,floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and tidal waves. Think about it.

  • fred
    March 07, 2014 - 09:59

    NO NO NO .Something like this ;should not even be up for discussion. Farmers grew potatoes here for hundreds of years with no problem Now all of a sudden they got themselves into a bind because cavendish farms and mccains ; owns most of them ;using them like puppets.I hope they look after the water better than they look after the environment. 3/4 of the shores around p.e.i. are contaminated. 1/2 the people on p.e.i can;t drink their own drinking water; nitrates . We have at least 2 or 3 fish kills every year. They spray close to the shores ;when the tide is out / killing a lot of shell fish. P.E.I is away over farmed /poisoning everything.There should definitely be more rules in place and enforce the ones that are there now to even continue on with this foolishness

  • Quiet Observer
    March 07, 2014 - 08:18

    The decision should be made based on sound science, not by rhetoric fear mongering by either side.

    • Patrick
      March 07, 2014 - 09:47

      I agree.

  • same family
    March 07, 2014 - 07:54

    Old online comments from a more senior Gordon McKay who ran for the Lieberals in 2003. " "I have always had an interest to serve the people of the province. I wanted to support the new leader of the Liberal Party of P.E, Mr. Robert Ghiz. " I guess if they are related, he is getting his chance. Yes sir! Yes Sir! Yes Sir!

  • seems to me
    March 07, 2014 - 06:59

    The farmers said irrigation helps their potato crops realize a better yield and turn a better profit. Seems to me, it wasn't that long ago that farmers got together and decided to plant SMALLER potato crops.... ("supply and demand" or "price-fixing"?) to raise prices. Okay ... so they got their prices high ... now they want to grow more AND don't care if they damage our ground water in the process? (they deny this of course).

    • Patrick
      March 07, 2014 - 09:49

      seems to me you dont understand how a processing contract works.

  • fed up
    March 07, 2014 - 06:44

    They need the top soil in a bad way also. I hope the y take better care of the water then they do the top soil, it is all in the ditches. I have no faith in farmers . They care about one thing MONEY.

  • Jon
    March 07, 2014 - 06:30

    Please do not give the farmers any more rope! Potatoes are a dying industry and this is the race to the bottom. Don't poison our drinking water in this useless exercise!

  • Here's A Though
    March 07, 2014 - 06:09

    How dare they gamble with our water! Maybe they should tell their processors where to go and start behaving like a real farmer. A farmer who DOES care about the land and water. A farmer who understands soil and how it should be taken care of. Farming 101; the class they obviously skipped. Just STOP trying to compete. It's not a game! "...responsible Island producers just trying to make a living"? You contaminate our drinking water year after year and you call that responsible? I could go on but if I do it won't pass the "be nice" test for the Guardian's website.

  • matt kenny
    March 07, 2014 - 05:02

    "Irrigation would not use vast quantities of water they argued". I suppose vast is relative... i.e. It would require vast quantities of water to irrigate the Sahara, but since we are not irrigating the sahara we won't use vast quantities. That is about how much respect some potato farmers have for the rest of the Island. Don't insult our intelligence. These farmers should be ashamed of themselves. Look at all the new homes going up i the countryside, and everywhere, and we all drink out of the same damn whole in the ground. A hole in the ground that is also full of vast quantities of pesticides.

  • sean brown
    March 07, 2014 - 03:51

    Why can the government trial project this with a few farmers see how the impact is effecting the enviroment. If it flys great!!! if it doesnt well find other means

    • Interested Farmer
      March 08, 2014 - 21:06

      The fact is that we have a considerable number of high capacity wells now on farms. There is no monitoring being done on these wells. The only studies completed so far were studies in 2006 and 2007 where Dept. of Environment withdrew water from a stream for a few hours and came up with the conclusion we have lots of water. Some study, I think. A study to determine what effect high capacity irrigation wells would have on our groundwater and aquatic habitat would take years of monitoring and testing. This must be open, transparent, ethical and peer reviewed. some of these farmers who have wells already are just wanting to grow more potatoes and grab contracts from some other producers who cannot afford the wells and irrigation equipment. They will ruin the soil and groundwater in the process.

  • Stewart Smith
    March 06, 2014 - 22:20

    Our water is being slowly poisoned in the name of profit. We can't eat money any more than we can survive without water.

  • don
    March 06, 2014 - 21:57

    will these farmers who wants to deep well give us a written guarantee that when they drain all our fresh water that they will replace all the water? they can't they have drained how many streams on PEI? and do they care "NO" why money so they can go south for the winter and by a bigger tv. farmers remember the water that you want o drain is your kids and grand kids drinking water. again i ask you use your own well that gives you water o your home.and learn not to water during the heat of he day you not to bright. read as to what this word means {evaporation} but then we all know that ghiz will do as money tells him what to do and that is drain our water.