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After negotiating the sale of over 2,000 acres of farmland, Brendel Farms co-owner Derrick Gardiner says he is back to square one.
On March 26, the province’s executive council denied the sale of 2,220 acres of farmland from Brendel Farms to three incorporated farming businesses — Long River Farms, Indian River Farms and Galloway Farms. The three buyers all listed members of the Irving family as presidents or directors.
J.D. Irving Ltd. owns Cavendish Farms, one of the largest private employers on P.E.I.
Galloway Farms was incorporated on Feb. 5, 2019, two days before the company applied to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission for the sale of the land. Galloway lists Rebecca Irving as its sole director and shareholder.
Long River Farms lists Elizabeth Irving as its president and director, while Indian River Farms lists Mary Jean Irving as its president and director.
The National Farmers Union of P.E.I. had publicly criticized the sale, claiming that if it were approved, it would allow Irving to circumvent land size restrictions under the Lands Protection Act. The act limits the land holdings of corporate owners to 3,000 acres, although there are exceptions for non-arable land.
Gardiner said he believed the decision to quash the land sale was related to the Island’s election season.
"I don't think too much of it, but anyway there seems to be a lot of political power in this Island," Gardiner said. "Any farmer would like to know why politicians or private citizens of P.E.I. seem to have that power over somebody else's property."
Gardiner said other potential buyers of the property have been in touch with him.
The sale was denied by cabinet on the afternoon of March 26. Later that day, Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced an election would take place April 23.
But Richard Brown, who is the minister of communities, land and environment, said executive council made the decision based on the recommendations of IRAC.
"It was not political," Brown said. "The decisions and the recommendations come out of IRAC. That's an independent body."
Brown said the purchase was denied because the size of the land holdings was substantial.
"We applied the rules of the Lands Protection Act," Brown said. “The beneficial owners are one family, basically."
Robert Godfrey, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, said he had expressed concerned about the Brendel sale to members of provincial cabinet. He said he did not believe political considerations had a bearing on the decision to turn down the sale.
"We want the letter of the law followed. Certainly, executive council found that this law was not being followed and quashed the sale as a result," Godfrey said.
Godfrey said he believed IRAC to be a credible, independent body that was not swayed by politics.
Brendel Farms has been a family-owned farming operation for years, Gardiner said. He said a stigma has been created by some advocates, like the NFU, around family farming operations that happen to have incorporated.
"As far as I'm concerned, the Irvings are no different,” Gardiner said. "We had a great relationship and, as far as I know, everybody does. They're not the big bad people that everybody thinks they are."
Gardiner said it was common for small- and medium-scale farming operations to purchase land through the use of more than one corporate name.
Edith Ling, women’s district director with the NFU, said the organization had no qualms with Brendel Farms. She said the concern was more about the concentration of farmland ownership by the Irvings.
“They’re an industrial corporation,” Ling said. “In order to buy that Gardiner property, they had to give birth to another corporation, Galloway Farms.”
The Guardian reached out to Mary Jean Irving and other members of the Irving family for comment but did not hear back by deadline.
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