Rain just one factor, says potato board GM as packaging facility closes

A lack of rain is hurting P.E.I. potato production, says the general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, but he doesn't see that as a direct cause of the closing of a Cavendish Farms packaging facility.

Only so many ways to produce more P.E.I. potatoes, says Greg Donald

Cavendish Farms is moving away from fresh potato markets with the closure of a packaging plant in O'Leary. (CBC)

A lack of rain is hurting P.E.I. potato production, says the general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, but he doesn't see that as a direct cause of the closing of a Cavendish Farms packaging facility.

Cavendish Farms announced the closure of its fresh potato packaging plant in O'Leary Monday, with a loss of 40 jobs.

In a news release, Cavendish Farms said low yields on the Island have led to a potato shortage, and it is not economic to continue to import potatoes for processing and packaging. It also made reference to a moratorium on high capacity irrigation wells, saying the potato crop could not be entirely dependent on rainfall.

In a conversation with Island Morning, P.E.I. Potato Board General Manager Greg Donald said low rainfall is certainly hurting yields. He said yields were down eight per cent in 2017 due to dry weather, and so far it looks like this year could be similar.

But he added farmers are working to improve yields in other ways.

"Potato plants, to grow good productivity and quality, certainly need moisture. But it would be one factor. Growers are also focused on … improving soil health and improving rotation crops," said Donald.

"The trend is to warmer temperatures and also, this period between the middle of July and the middle of August, we're seeing less rainfall. Warmer temperatures and less rainfall certainly has an impact on the crop, and P.E.I., as far as potato acres, there's limited room for growth."

Dry potato fields have been leading to lower yields. (CBC)

Donald said conversations he has had led him to understand Cavendish Farms was interested in shifting its focus away from fresh markets and towards frozen, processed potatoes.

Cavendish Farms declined a request to be interviewed by CBC News Monday.

In its news release, Cavendish Farms also questioned the long-term viability of competing in processed markets without irrigation. Donald said he is not concerned about that, even with Cavendish Farms breaking ground on a new plant in Lethbridge.

He said all major processors in North America are launching new plants, and that is a sign of growth in the industry.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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