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Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving raises concerns about P.E.I.'s deep-water well moratorium

Robert K. Irving, president of Cavendish Farms, delivered the luncheon speech at this year’s Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting.
Robert K. Irving, president of Cavendish Farms, delivered the luncheon speech at this year’s Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting. - Terrence McEachern

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — If it wasn’t for a single rainfall event, Robert K. Irving, the president of Cavendish Farms, says the 2017 potato growing season could have been a disaster.

Even so, the low rainfalls last year produced below-average yields. And, as a result, the company had to import potatoes from Alberta, North Dakota, Manitoba and New Brunswick to meet production needs.

“Importing potatoes is not a sustainable business plan,” said Irving, the luncheon guest speaker at Monday’s Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting.

To meet the challenge of dry weather conditions, Irving said industry leaders and the government need to come together and find a sustainable solution. “Supplemental irrigation,” he explained, is part of the solution when rainfall isn’t enough.

Irving explained afterwards the issue is that the province has a moratorium on digging wells.

“We are concerned about the supply of potatoes, and mainly due to the lack of water at times when there are drought-type conditions. In order to avert that crisis or problem, we’re saying if we have supplementary irrigation, when required in those times, that we can run these irrigation systems and water our potato plants,” he said.

The province’s Water Act, which touches on the issue of deep wells, has yet to be proclaimed.

Other challenges Irving discussed regarding the potato industry were fluctuations in the U.S. currency exchange rate, energy prices and transportation issues.

The company operates frozen potato processing plants in North Dakota and Ontario, and is opening a $370-million plant in Lethbridge, Alta., in 2019. The plant will open up markets in Asia and Western Canada and the U.S. and help increase production to reach the company’s goal of 1.8 billion potatoes. When the company started out 38 years ago, Irving said production was 50 million potatoes.

“I believe that for every successful business, large or small, it all starts with your vision. You must have a vivid image of where you want to be based on your goals.”

A vision Cavendish Farms had in 2010 was doubling sales by 2020. Irving said the company will likely realize that goal before the 10-year window has expired.

“Start with your vision. Know your strengths, and use them to your advantage. Live your values, be open to change and be proud of your roots. And never, ever give up.”

terrence.mceachern@theguardian.pe.ca   

Twitter.com/terry_mcn

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