The complaints of many Islanders are often left on the Irving’s doorstep. Cavendish Farms, because of its involvement in recent land and water issues, is a favourite target. The Irvings are successful because they make sound, and sometimes hard, business decisions. A company without a viable plan for the future is leaving town or going under.
The Irvings rarely get recognition for providing the major market for P.E.I.’s potato crop and keeping hundreds of farmers and their families in business. French fry processing jobs and economic spinoffs across the province are immense.
So, when the company sits down and discusses proposals with all parties in the legislature, it deserves a little more respect than becoming a political football on the house floor. Accusations of secret meetings and backroom schemes don’t serve the company, province or our MLAs well.
Cavendish Farms is accused of having undue influence on government policy. The moratorium on deep-water wells is still in place -- for more than 15 years; and land ownership limits for individuals and corporations are still in place -- since1992. Communities, Lands and Environment Minister Richard Brown said he had one meeting this year with Cavendish Farms.
What Cavendish Farms has urged, in an open committee meeting of the legislature, is that government relax acreage limits on farmers who, the company suggests, need more than double the current 1,000 acres to remain viable.
Cavendish Farms has talked about a water usage plan with watershed groups, the potato industry and academic and research groups to see if supplemental irrigation can happen in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Some MLAs are playing fast and loose with the facts. Opposition parties met with the Irvings and heard the same proposals that were presented to government. But that doesn’t stop grandstanding in the legislature to suggest there are secret proposals afoot. It’s fine if the Opposition thinks the land and water proposals are wrong. These are real, substantive issues. Take a stand and go on the record.
The past two summers saw farmers suffer through prolonged droughts. Potatoes were left in the ground later this year to mature and an early fall saw 7,000 acres lost. It’s a critical setback for farmers and Cavendish Farms. Sustainable, supplemental irrigation would protect the potato crop. But Mr. Brown said the Island’s moratorium would remain in place until at least the completion of a scientific study in 2021. That means that three more harvests could suffer.
The company has suggested a pilot project for irrigation to monitor the impact on the water table. It is not asking for the moratorium to be lifted but does hope science can determine if irrigation is detrimental to the aquifer or puts Island water sources at risk.
An environment-first policy does not have to be at odds with a sustainable potato industry. Cavendish Farms has signalled publicly, with its recent proposals, that it wants to remain on P.E.I. and to see company, farmers and province prosper. It makes sense to approve these prudent pilot steps.