Moratorium on deep wells needs to go, says Cavendish Farms

Teresa Wright
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Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving, left, and Blaine MacPherson, company vice president of agricultural affairs, speak before a committee of MLAs probing the issue of high capacity wells. Irving says his company may be forced to look for potatoes elsewhere if P.E.I. does not lift the current moratorium on deep-water wells.

French fry company may look elsewhere for potatoes if it can't get deep wells for crop irrigation

Cavendish Farms says it may be forced to downsize its operations and investments in P.E.I. if government does not lift its moratorium on deep-water wells.

Company president Robert Irving appeared before a provincial legislative standing committee Thursday in Charlottetown, which has resumed its probe into the issue of high capacity wells for agricultural irrigation.

Irving told the committee of MLAs his company is the largest private employer in the province, with an economic impact to P.E.I. of over $1 billion. He explained how Cavendish Farms and Cavendish Produce together purchase more than half of all raw potatoes grown on P.E.I.

But the Island’s potatoes are not meeting the stringent consistency and quality demands of the french fry market. That’s why his company is now at a crossroads, Irving said.

“Do we continue to invest in the Island with an unpredictable supply of quality potatoes at higher cost, or do we reduce investment and start growing elsewhere, where a supply of quality, lower cost potatoes are available?” Irving told the committee.

“We believe our future is here in Prince Edward Island, but the P.E.I. government needs to lift the moratorium on irrigation wells as we go into the future.”

The question of whether to allow deep wells to be drilled and used for potato crops has sparked intense public interest and heated debate over water use in Prince Edward Island.

Environmental advocates and the agricultural industry groups have waged a public relations battle over the question of whether P.E.I. has enough groundwater to support industrial irrigation of potato crops.

Scientific data compiled by the provincial Department of Environment suggests P.E.I.’s groundwater is replenished at a relatively high rate.

The department told the committee in February only seven per cent of water available for extraction within environmental regulations is being used.

Nonetheless, watershed groups, environmental activists and social advocacy groups have formed a coalition to oppose any new irrigation wells until further peer-reviewed scientific testing is done to ensure the wells would not deplete P.E.I.’s groundwater the province’s only source of drinking water.

The P.E.I. Potato Board, which has been jointly lobbying government to lift the moratorium with Cavendish Farms, told the committee Thursday it supports the notion of a third party reviewing the province’s scientific data.

“We’re saying, let’s settle this once and for all,” said Gary Linkletter, chair of the P.E.I. Potato Board.

“Get someone credible, probably from another province who’s got a good record, who has knowledge of these things, get them in, review the Department of Environment’s data, do other research as needed and get a definitive answer will this hurt P.E.I.’s environment? If it won’t, then continue on.”

Linkletter stressed repeatedly only one per cent of P.E.I.’s water is used for agriculture — the same amount used by golf courses, which are not facing the same scrutiny.

He also argued not all potato farmers would use irrigation if the moratorium were lifted, as it is a costly venture. He estimated installing a well, with all equipment and an environmental assessment, would cost over $200,000.

But potato growers who would choose not to irrigate may not be able to count on a contract with Cavendish Farms.

Irving told the MLAs his company would likely not enter into contracts with growers without irrigation if the moratorium were lifted.

“We would want them to irrigate,” Irving said.

“We’re looking for quality. It’s not about pressuring a grower. He’ll get better yield, he’ll get better strength of a good storage and he’ll make more money and company will supply our customer.”

Linkletter stressed P.E.I.’s farms would never be 100 per cent irrigated, but he believes farmers should be permitted to drill a well and irrigate if they need it.

“We’re just wanting them to have the option,” he said.

TWright@TheGuardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: Department of Environment, P.E.I. Potato Board

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • Earl
    June 15, 2014 - 20:12

    Robert Irving...let us help you with the down-sizing, by NOT buying Cavendish Farms products! Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Stop the bullying!!!

  • It's Great for the Island!!
    June 15, 2014 - 09:44

    I think most folks have missed some of the important benefits of using ground water for irrigation : if we can eliminate the water flowing from the springs supplying our river and brook water flow we solve our environments issues with fish kills and anoxic events that get reported each year! If we can eliminate the water flows completely we will not need the troublesome buffer zones around water courses and will not be bothered by the fish that keep littering the area. Without the buffers and wetland zones we will have more productive farmland and be able to grow more potatoes. Is that not a win win for all sides?

  • It's Great for the Island!!
    June 15, 2014 - 09:41

    I think most folks have missed some of the important benefits of using ground water for irrigation : if we can eliminate the water flowing from the springs supplying our river and brook water flow we solve our environments issues with fish kills and anoxic events that get reported each year! If we can eliminate the water flows completely we will not need the troublesome buffer zones around water courses and will not be bothered by the fish that keep littering the area. Without the buffers and wetland zones we will have more productive farmland and be able to grow more potatoes. Is that not a win win for all sides?

  • Truth comes out
    June 14, 2014 - 18:50

    To the Irving's; ever heard of "evolve or perish"? It is jaw dropping that you expect PEI to 1) allow deep water wells so you can make larger fries and more money and 2) that Islanders are so stupid as to not see through your blackmail. I think it's time for PEI to reconsider negotiating with companies like you. Shame shame shame on you!

  • w kennedy
    June 14, 2014 - 15:58

    Doesn't rain enough here??? The glyphosides [Roundup] are said to promote fungus growth and with industrial farming nowadays the plant is sprayed as well before harvest to get rid of the top. We may never find out what is elevating disease levels here because we expect the government to be able and willing to monitor things ha ha! The Irvings were pictured with the Premiers wishing to bend arms for TFW's too don't expect jobs either.

  • Hog Wash
    June 14, 2014 - 08:59

    All it would take is a bit of marketing to change the demand for long fries. Market them as bite size fries. Market them as a more earth friendly product. Get on board with the tend Irving. Green and organic is where the market wants to go. How dare you threaten us.

    • Garth Staples
      June 14, 2014 - 13:56

      Green dandelions. Green weeds of all descriptions sucking up good rain water and water from the water table. The world is already deficient in ample food supplies. A wise farmer 50 years ago said: "boycott the farmer and starve to death". Is anyone listening?

    • Garth Staples
      June 14, 2014 - 13:57

      Green dandelions. Green weeds of all descriptions sucking up good rain water and water from the water table. The world is already deficient in ample food supplies. A wise farmer 50 years ago said: "boycott the farmer and starve to death". Is anyone listening?

  • Tony Reddin
    June 14, 2014 - 00:13

    Since Cav Farms took over an hour, the media didn't stay to hear the other side- our presentation is at https://www.facebook.com/notes/march-against-monsanto-pei/agriculture-policy-on-pei-time-for-transition/1424578557822091, including these requests: -that the Committee recommend that the PEI government initiate a transition away from industrial agriculture to sustainable agriculture based on the principles of organic farming...with actions such as: -evaluating present programs of the PEI Department of Agriculture for usefulness in Sustainable Agriculture, -increasing programs to support organic farming, -increasing and setting targets for organic acreage, -protecting organic farms from pesticide drift of adjoining farms, -making PEI a GMO-free zone, -including public input, -supporting local production of food now imported to PEI, -supporting marketing of organic food products to other provinces and countries, including Taiwan and Japan, and -supporting farmers as they make the transition to organic methods.

  • Island Boy
    June 13, 2014 - 18:31

    Before they leave, just be sure they pay back all the "special loans and privileges" that the Irvings got from Government. Then let us become "organic" and leave a beautiful Island for our young,,, maybe they will even enjoy potatoes that are not fried and frozen.

  • don
    June 13, 2014 - 16:52

    dave anger. i agree they should pay at $2,000 a barrel for water if not more. it is time that ghiz and his power hungry money hungry goons find out they do not OWN the water. Irving lives in Nb,wes is from Nb, ghiz will move to Ont. and leaves the rest of us to go with out water. but to BLACKMAIL islanders when they are 17 biggest fry plant in the world. McCains is #1 but you do not see them blackmailing islanders. thats why i by only McCains fries. and i hope all islanders boycott any farmer that want to drain our fresh water. as profit comes before water.

  • dave anger
    June 13, 2014 - 15:15

    how much per liter are they willing to pay for the water, as it belongs to the people. Even oil company's pay a royalty for ..oil taken out of the ground. I would also worry about the run off from the irrigation as the rivers already run red int the spring from these farms

  • Stewart Smith
    June 13, 2014 - 14:42

    Let them leave PEI then. Who do they think they are! Everyone wins if they leave.

  • Peasant Farmer
    June 13, 2014 - 13:47

    Time for the "big" potato farmers to take a step back and realize who is really running "their" farms and who is really making decisions for them. That's why I got out of grain farming years ago - no control at all over my destiny and MY money!!!!

  • Ron Kelly
    June 13, 2014 - 12:37

    We need to develop a long-term, comprehensive plan -- including elements related to production, processing, marketing, transportation and sales -- to allow the P.E.I. agricultural industry to convert to a totally organic approach, break its dependence on multinationals and undermine the companies' not-very-subtle blackmail approach.

  • Observer from the East
    June 13, 2014 - 11:28

    If this is the future of PEI - corporate farming that destroys our environment - we have to start looking at different methods and ways. When the environment is gone, it's all gone. No amount of corporate money can change that

  • don
    June 13, 2014 - 10:40

    Don't give in. you know ghiz goes with the money and power. but the farmers are looking at the money end only. not the fact that if they drain the water we will have NO drinking water. are these farmers willing to sign a paper that when they drain our fresh water that they will pay for all our imported water? and something else to think about what happens when we have a drought and we will mark my words then after the farmers drain our water and they have no water for the fields what will they do? oh they can drink there profits.

  • threats
    June 13, 2014 - 10:22

    I can't believe the blatant threats and bkackmail being used by Mr Irving - he didn't even bother to try and hide it with corporate jargon! What really bothers me is that the irrigation water will be needed most in a dry summer - when the water table will be lower, of course. Will any restrictions be applied and enforced (!) during these times? I would suggest that if the moratorium is lifted then we will need a water table level monitor to continually measure the effects of the deep wells - and we need legislation to permit the wells to be shut down immediately if any adverse effects are detected. It's too late once the stable door is open and the horse has bolted.........

  • Don't give in
    June 13, 2014 - 10:15

    Don't give in to this blackmail. Islanders elected a government to run this province not the Irvings. Let them go. Then, the agro sector might at last be free to think about how to do things differently. Diversify. Stop the monoculture. Reduce pesticides and transition to organic. Have PEI branded as a place where high quality organic produce is grown, not pesticide-ridden potatoes destined for the french fry processors.

    • don
      June 13, 2014 - 16:55

      ghiz will wait till after the next election before telling us irvings win, plus the schools that he ill close. wait and see. plus ghiz promiced and said that he wants to be held countable for this statement: he will have a doctor for every islander. he said that back when he 1st got voted in where is all the doc's?

  • fred
    June 13, 2014 - 09:24

    Just keep the pressure on them . This yahoo of a government will do just about anything to screw the people of p.e.i. It has happened over and over and over again and still happening .

    • don
      June 13, 2014 - 10:51

      Robert Irving that is blackmail. i did not think your family would stoup that low. profits are more important the drinking water to you. but then you do not live here do you. but then on the web site of potato pro.com you are 17th biggest fry company in the world and mccains is #1 and i do not see mccains blackmailing islanders.

  • Quiet Observer
    June 13, 2014 - 09:20

    Gary Linkletter of the Potato Board has the best attitude. Get some credible science peer reviews so we have facts to deal with. Right now, potato growers say deep well irrigation is safe while other groups say it is not. Let's get credible facts from neutral, credible sources and base the decision on that. Cut the emotional grandstanding by both sides of the debate and deal with FACTS.

  • maybe worth considering
    June 13, 2014 - 09:15

    Let's say they do leave....then what? We have so many agriculture related jobs in PEI that will be gone. How do all those people survive...go out west like all the other islanders who don't have an agriculture related job? I wonder what our province would look like then... If the experts say there is enough water for the irrigation wells, then why do we question it? If we go to do a doctor to have surgery done, there's not a bunch of residents telling the surgeon they are wrong in their course of action. We trust their knowledge to come up with the right decision. I think we should do that for irrigation too.

    • You Said It
      June 13, 2014 - 12:17

      What experts? Trust corporate interests? What in the name of Stompin' Tom are you on? And you answered your own question with, "We have so many agriculture related jobs in PEI". We know agriculture. We are not bound to the Irvings. EVERYONE needs to eat.

  • Jake
    June 13, 2014 - 08:28

    We don't negotiate with hostage takers.

  • SomeSense
    June 13, 2014 - 08:10

    Stand firm for the people of PEI and call their bluff

  • INTERESTING
    June 13, 2014 - 07:40

    I find that some articles in this paper stay for days and weeks yet when it is something that involves all Islanders and some big Island business it disappears within 24 hours. Interesting on who might control the paper?

    • Jocelyne Lloyd, web editor
      June 13, 2014 - 08:27

      Hi Interesting. Some stories stay on the homepage because they are in sections that are not refreshed as often, such as Living or Business. The Local News section is filled with several new stories throughout the day, so the older ones get pushed down more frequently. The amount of news we have on any given day affects how quickly the older stories get pushed down the line and then off the home page. We attempt to keep stories the public seems to be engaged in in the Featured News section longer or we may put them up in the area as buttons under the blue bar. They never disappear -- you can continue to search for them in the search window at the top of the page. I hope that clears up the issue for you. If not, feel free to email me at jlloyd@theguardian.pe.ca for any further information. Jocelyne Lloyd, web editor

    • You Said It
      June 13, 2014 - 12:19

      Irving's own the media too.

  • lou lou annie
    June 13, 2014 - 07:31

    It is our water........water............they are not doing this for us, they are doing it out of greed and they do not care if they ruin us long term. Let them leave. I really think they reek of manipulation and threats and it would be nice to see them put in their place for a change. I do not see anyone saying they should stay and risk our water supply.......let them go......

  • No Way
    June 13, 2014 - 07:11

    I find it shocking that we are being asked to risk our water, OUR WATER, for the sake of french fries. Something that is unhealthy and should be eliminated from most people's diet. Obviously, the Irvings care nothing about people. Money is their only concern.

  • Not Surprised
    June 13, 2014 - 06:59

    That would be the best thing for the Island. We need to take control of our Island back. These guys are like drug dealers threatening to cut off our supply and yes, it will be a little difficult at first but in the long run, it will be best thing. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  • Ohh no, such big tough guys!
    June 13, 2014 - 06:56

    Bullies! Let them downsize! Let them leave all together! Somebody else will buy the potatoes, and probably pay more money for them. Funny how we don't hear McCains threatening our province every year to get what they want. This mentality is destroying our country and our planet. Greed greed greed!!! Shame on you Irvings!!!

  • irishnannie
    June 13, 2014 - 06:46

    Profit and greed. As a have not province we give so much to entice business, at times to the detriment of our Island and its taxpayers. Maybe our government should have a water meter on every high capacity well in place now on PEI and charge business for the use of our natural resource. Guess it's time to see if big business and large lobby groups have a stronger say than the average citizen of PEI........ I feel a little sadder for my Island today.

  • irishnannie
    June 13, 2014 - 06:45

    Profit and greed. As a have not province we give so much to entice business, at times to the detriment of our Island and its taxpayers. Maybe our government should have a water meter on every high capacity well in place now on PEI and charge business for the use of our natural resource. Guess it's time to see if big business and large lobby groups have a stronger say than the average citizen of PEI........ I feel a little sadder for my Island today.

  • 2016: Cavendish Farms For Government
    June 13, 2014 - 06:21

    Why don't we just rid of ourselves of the government and directly elect corporations to represent "our" needs?

  • Patrick
    June 13, 2014 - 05:44

    I'm wondering if a large food processor moved into the Charlottetown area and was going to provide 300+ new jobs and needed 2 large capacity deep water wells, what would the public do then? Deny them? and send jobs elsewhere? I highly doubt it....... If the science says it can be done, then I say lift the moratorium . And the science says it can. Enough with the chicken little attitude people.

  • AMAZED
    June 13, 2014 - 02:04

    Goodbye Cavendish Farms !

  • intobed
    June 13, 2014 - 00:39

    NO. NO NO NO. What part of NO NO NO does the government not understand? NO NO NO.

  • A concerned farmer
    June 12, 2014 - 22:49

    I attended the hearing today and I am disgusted with the new tact Irvings are using. They are so worried about the potato farmers not making enough money growing potatoes without irrigation. Well, what have they done this year - they have reduced the price they are paying these farmers. Next thing they want is to do away with the crop rotation plan we are supposed to have in this province. Hedgerows will soon be removed to make fields suitable for irrigation equipment and nitrogen will be applied via the irrigation system. Only farmers with irrigation will be able to get contracts. It is clear Cavendish only wants a few big farmers as it is easier to deal with and manipulate a few. They continue to threaten to leave PEI if they do not get their way. PEI taxpayers have already put a lot of funding into equipment at the plant. If they need to leave - just tell them to go. We survived before them and we will survive after them.

    • Can't agree more
      June 13, 2014 - 09:44

      I'm also a farmer, and it's good to have Cavendish Farms put it on the record that they will require all their contract growers to have irrigation in order to get a contract. I was against the Potato Board pushing for this all along, as I feared Cavendish would turn around and make it mandatory. I was told they wouldn't. Now they say they will, so using Gary Linkletter's numbers of $200,000/well, and 80 farmers that Cavendish Farms contracts with, that's $16,000,000 that Cavendish Farms will force growers to pay - and that's just for one well each. If we need 3 or 4 wells to cover our potato ground, it could be $48 - 64 million! And yet, Cavendish wants us to be cheaper so they can pay us less. How do I make payments on this math. It's time for farmers to push back and it should start with the Potato Board. Stop being Cavendish Farms' mouthpieces and defend the farmers you supposedly represent.

  • tohellwitcavendish
    June 12, 2014 - 21:43

    I ask,please,break the Cavendish stranglehold on the island.We are able to operate without Cavendish....THE GROUNDWATER BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE OF ALL THE ISLAND,NOT JUST A CHOSEN FEW AND THEY ARE SAYING NO !!! For all you farmers out there,c`mon...stick up for yourselves,be a better neighbour and gain back some respect.You may be heard......You should help....be responsible and speak up....

  • same story
    June 12, 2014 - 21:29

    Great way to twist things around . There is not going to be a huge increase in golf courses using water any time in the future. There will most likely be fewer golf courses not more of them but the water usage for potatoes could increase a thousand time over in a few years if these vultures are let loose. They care only about one thing Money!

  • enough already
    June 12, 2014 - 21:24

    The Irving would already be growing potatoes where the quality was better and the cost lower if such Utopia existed . Don''t tell me they are growing here because to love P.E.I they grow here because they can make the most money here. Please don't let these people destroy our only source of water!

  • CHOOSE ONE
    June 12, 2014 - 21:18

    You must choose people of PEI. Do you want future generations here to have drinkable water or do you want the Irvings to have another Billion dollars. Remember, when the water runs out so do the people that want to use it up for more and higher profits. YOUR CHOICE. If you cave in to the Irving threats now what about next time they want something.

  • Craig
    June 12, 2014 - 21:15

    Will the Irving's be around in 10 or 20 years when the ground water is gone to supply the people of pei with water? When the Irvings want something they always play the ( if we cannot do this we will have to look at moving our business) card same as they did with master packaging 8 years ago. It's the islands water not just the potato farmers!

  • WAITING FOR THIS
    June 12, 2014 - 21:11

    I was waiting to see how long it would take the Irvings to resort to threats of jobs being lost if they didn't get their way. Just remember people that when the water runs out so do the Irvings. As for starting to grow elsewhere, don't they already have many acres in Maine, North Dakota, New Brunswick to name some. Just plain and simple BLACKMAIL.

  • Mo' Money
    June 12, 2014 - 21:05

    Robert Irving needs some more money so I think the least we can do to make that happen is risk our future water supply so they can use up ever ounce they can to get better, cheaper potatoes. The fertilizers and pesticides have only contaminated some, not all wells, and yes we have the highest cancer rates in the country but please think of this poor man and give him his wells.

  • UPWESTER
    June 12, 2014 - 21:05

    Don't let Irving black mail us any longer. Irving is just like Quebec, if you want to go somewhere else, go. A company of their size and still bumming money from us poor pesants,stll can't stand up alone and do anything without getting our money. Call their bluff, say no. Our well being is more important than more profits for Irving to send out of the country.