March 13th, 2014

Hello, all,

Yesterday it was discovered that if you buy two ads in a local paper, you get an opinion piece printed like a news story.  But, wait, there’s more: the special really is:

Buy two big ads, get one editorial free.  This is the same package which the Department of Transportation got regarding Plan B!

Potato processors enter water debate as stakes increase
Published on March 12, 2014 in The Guardian
Lead editorial

The stakes are being raised in the divisive debate on deep-water wells for supplemental irrigation of potatoes on P.E.I. Now, itʼs about processing contracts, the ability of growers to fulfil those contracts and the future of our two major french fry processors. Last week, the spectre of Cavendish Farms or McCains Foods reducing their contracts or even remaining in the province was raised publicly during a meeting of a legislative standing committee.

There have already been warnings from processors that the demand for P.E.I. french fries is decreasing because of additional competition and supply from other market areas. There are suggestions that contracts will be reduced while processors are starting negotiations with a lower price offer over last year. This doesnʼt bode well for contractors who grow over 60 per cent of the Islandʼs potato acreage.
Outside of the agricultural sector, there is almost universal opposition to lifting a 10-year moratorium on deep-water wells. Even inside the farming community, the NFU is opposed to any changes. Other farmers, including some potato growers, are either opposed or neutral on the issue.

Like Daniel thrown into the lionʼs den, three farmer representatives from the Innovative Farm Group (IFG) appeared before the standing committee. IFG represents eight family farm operations in central P.E.I. who grow 4,000 acres of potatoes on a rotational production of 12,000 acres. Some of the farms already have deep-water wells, others use ponds fed by wells and the rest use a pond and surface water mix. If irrigation is needed, deep-water wells are the most efficient option, IFG representatives told the committee. Without the ability to guarantee quality, farmers risk losing processing and table markets where even one dry week can have a significant impact on yield. If Island growers cannot supply a certain quality and size of potato, processors have options with growers and plants in other provinces or states where opposition to deep-water wells is limited.
P.E.I. potato growers suggest the industry would be in jeopardy without some relief from deep-water wells, with catastrophic economic results for farmers, rural communities and the province in general. Irrigation will provide an important tool to help sustain family farms for the next generation and beyond. Farmers said all the right things to the committee. “We live in rural P.E.I. with our children, our families, our friends and neighbours, in and around the farms that we would be irrigating. Thus we are very committed to managing this resource to be as gentle on our environment and as beneficial to our environment as possible. Better plant growth from irrigation means less fertilizer and fewer pesticides due to less stress on the plant.”

The standing committee and government have difficult tasks ahead as they must decide if compromise is possible to protect our water resource even if science supports additional deep-water wells and thus offers farmers a chance to remain competitive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
The “Daniel in the lion’s den” comment is peculiar.  First, the editorial doesn’t credit that one of the presenters from IFG when starting his presentation used the reference to a lions’ den.  Second, the spectators were a bit taken aback by the allusion, as the atmosphere had been one of respect (and perhaps concern for the situation these farmers are in), and Chair Paula Biggar immediately and forcefully said no one would be treated disrespectfully in her committee room as she welcomed them.

As a very observant woman said to me last night, “They (the Ghiz government) didn’t realize that the high capacity wells were going to be the thing that made many Islanders sit up and realize that the French fry sector of the potato industry is in terrible shape — and more acreage, French fry promotion, irrigation wells, fumigation…is just not going to fix it.  It’s not good for our environment nor our health.  But we can’t vilify farmers —  we do need to start the transition away from this before the market does.”

Today’s weather is likely to have an effect on the Standing Committee meeting.  This will be the fourth meeting with presenters regarding this issue.  (Minister Sherry, Environment Director Jim Young and Watershed/Subdivision planner Bruce Raymond on February 20th, Catherine O’Brien with the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water and Mi’kmaq Keptin John Joe Sark on February 27th; the National Farmers Union, PEI Watershed Alliance, Central Queen’s Wildlife Federation/West River, Green Party PEI, and Innovative Farms Group last week on March 6th.)

If today’s meeting (scheduled for 1PM) is postponed, it should be listed here:
and be rescheduled for Friday, starting at 10AM.  

If you are storm-stayed with a bit of time, check out the archives put together by the tech-savvy member of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water, Maureen Kerr:

Unfortunately, if the Standing Committee is postponed until tomorrow, it crams into other planned events:
National Farmers Union District Convention which is being held this Friday, March 14 at the Dutch Inn.  Registration is at 9:30 a.m. with the meeting getting underway at 10:00 a.m.  Our guest speaker is our National President, Jan Slomp who will be speaking on building alternatives for a better farming and food system.  As well, we will have a panel discussion on high capacity wells and fracking.  Reports and resolutions will be considered during the day with adjournment about 4:00 p.m.  Everyone is welcome to attend.  Registration fee is $20 per person which includes a hot and cold buffet at noon. 

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