Cavendish Farms reiterates call to lift moratorium on high-capacity wells

French-fry giant Cavendish Farms has reiterated its desire to see the end of a moratorium on new high-capacity agricultural wells pegged by the company as a way for potato farmers to stay competitive.

Irving says he wants any changes done in a responsible way

Robert Irving addressed the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce Monday as the keynote speaker. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

French-fry giant Cavendish Farms has reiterated its desire to see the end of a moratorium on new high-capacity agricultural wells pegged by the company as a way for P.E.I. potato farmers to stay competitive.

Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving repeated his longstanding call on Monday as keynote speaker at the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce President's Annual Luncheon.

He told the luncheon that the industry can't rely solely on rain to produce product — and he added that importing potatoes is not sustainable. 

Following the speech, Irving told the CBC that "there's an opportunity" for all sides to work together to find a solution.

"We as a business and our growers here, how do we find a way with government and with the watershed groups here on Prince Edward Island to utilize the water here in a more controlled, but responsible manner," he said. 

'We need quality potatoes'

Cavendish Farms had to import potatoes last season when it was dry and there were low yields.

"We need quality potatoes and of course potatoes need water to grow and if we have a shortfall of rain, then we're at risk of not having potatoes for our plants," said Irving.  

Cavendish Farms is part of the J.D. Irving group of companies, the largest private-sector employer on P.E.I. 

Irving said his business needs to remain competitive, especially with other companies starting to process potatoes. 

Supplementary irrigation

"We want an opportunity to have access to water for our growers to grow the potatoes, especially when we need water to make sure when we have a drought year," said Irving. "It's just to have supplementary irrigation." 

A moratorium on new high-capacity agriculture wells on P.E.I. has been in place for more than a decade. (CBC)

The moratorium on new wells was put in place in 2002. P.E.I. gets all its water from wells, and environmental groups supporting the moratorium are concerned high-capacity wells could affect both the quantity and the quality of what is available.

The issue had been reopened a few years ago by Cavendish Farms and the P.E.I. Potato Board. They said they only wanted to see a change if it was done responsibly. 

The province has said there is still research to be done. 

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About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.