'There were no secret meetings,' Cavendish Farms says in response to exchange in legislature

Cavendish Farms has responded to an exchange in the legislature that happened Wednesday, when the PCs questioned the provinces relationship with the company.

PCs questioned the province's relationship with the company in the legislature Wednesday

'There were no secret meetings,' says Cavendish Farms, after the Opposition questioned the government's relationship with the company. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Cavendish Farms has responded to an exchange in the legislature that happened Wednesday, when the PCs questioned the provinces relationship with the company.

Wednesday's exchange came after Cavendish Farms and its president Robert Irving appeared before P.E.I.'s standing committee on communities, land and environment on Nov. 1 to ask for greater land limits for potato farmers.

In the legislature Wednesday PC MLA Steven Myers said it was revealed there was a "secret proposal" made by Irving and that the company has a special seat at the table with the province.

"What is this proposal and what exactly is this secret that you don't want to disclose to Islanders?" Myers asked. 

Robert Irving had previously told CBC about his company being in talks with government regarding a water usage plan. 

In a news release Thursday, the company says it met with the Liberals, PCs, and Greens to discuss "risks and challenges" facing the potato industry on P.E.I. and that all parties received the same information.

"There were no secret meetings. We did not ask for a lift on the moratorium," the company said in the news release.

Project proposal

In the release, the company says it has met with watershed groups, the potato industry, and the academic/research community to look at "whether or not supplemental irrigation can happen in an environmentally sustainable manner."

Cavendish Farms says those consultations led to the creation of a proposal involving three watershed groups, Agriculture Canada, the P.E.I. Potato Board and the Canadian Rivers Institute.

The West Point and Area, Bedeque Bay and Kensington North watershed associations are the three involved.

Jubs Bristow, vice-president of agriculture with Cavendish Farms, said drier growing conditions over the past two years have put pressure on yields, quality and profitability for growers and processors within the potato industry.

"As a result, Cavendish Farms wanted to address this issue and come up with an irrigation research proposal, put together a group and a body of independent researchers and credible people to do sustainable, independent research on irrigation and what impact that would have on the aquifer and or surface water," Bristow said.

"Today [Thursday], Cavendish Farms has given permission to Minister [of Communities, Land and Environment Richard] Brown to table the proposal. The proposal is a multi-stakeholder approach for an evidence-based supplemental irrigation and water management demonstration project," the company said in the news release.

Proposed project would be on growers' land

Bristow said the goal is to identify suitable sites for irrigation across the three watersheds, by monitoring the impact it has on the aquifer as well as the impact it has on specific crop varieties.

He said Cavendish Farms has consulted with some of its contract growers interested in exploring irrigation and if approved, the pilot project would take place on some of those growers' properties.

"At no point in the process of setting up this proposal or putting the proposal or the project together are we asking for the moratorium​ to be unilaterally lifted … nor are we asking any body or organization to endorse irrigation," Bristow said.

He said the proposal is asking groups to support the research being done so scientists can determine if irrigation will be detrimental to the aquifer or put Island water sources at risk.

"If the research shows that there's no impact, then the next step would be to look at lifting the moratorium on specific case-by-case applications," Bristow said. 

Bristow said Cavendish Farms is still exploring funding options. He added that the company would be willing to pay for some of the project research.

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