March 16th, 2014

Another installment of “Let the Potato Board Educate Islanders on the Deep Well Issue”:
Guardian ad, Saturday, March 15th, 2014 — a quarter page in size (with annotations):

Oh, so it’s OK.

This is the The Education Plan — take what the Department of Environment officials said (“We have the capacity for Dozens and dozens and dozens of wells.”) and basically ignore scientists, watershed people, and volunteers who have looked at most of the same data and more and most certainly don’t come to that conclusion.  They are attempting to reassure a public which does cares about the health and fate of these farmers, but is growing increasingly uncomfortable with how this sector does business with its effects on land and health, and with ever-increasing demands to “level the playing field.”

This educational installment, point by point (any errors of interpretation are my own):
First the point being made by the Potato Board, and then what presenters have said at the Standing Committee meetings:
“The Science” Point #1:   “Prince Edward Island has one of the highest groundwater recharge rates in Canada, with recharge rates double of those in other agricultural parts of the Maritime provinces.”
Actually: A lot of rain (remember how many swimming pools per square inch or kilometer?) does not mean that the rain gets to groundwater.  This has been mentioned by several presenters at the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry.

The Science Point#2: Supplemental irrigation uses a very small fraction of our water supply.
Actually: this is likely true, but only a very small fraction of our water supply is actually available for our use.  Do we know all the factors to choose that this commodity is more worthy than any other needs for our water?

The Science Point#3: Supplemental Irrigation will have negligible impact on the available groundwater supply, as water will be drawn — at most — a few weeks per year, and not at all in some years.
Actually:  These high capacity wells pull up about 800 gallons per minute, I think I have read.  And they can run non-stop to get to all the fields.  That’s about a million gallons a day, multiplied by 18-27 days per year (Innovative Farms Groups information) — at the driest time of year, when the streams are running on mostly basewater (groundwater input)  — that’s about 34 million gallons of water from one well, which services about 200 acres, I think they said.  Most people would not call that negligible.

The Science Point#4: New wells would be regulated so that wells would not be approved that are beyond the capacity of the local watershed.
Actually: At least three different presenters have said that the assessment of capacity to allow the draw off water is completely wrong in the provincial 2013 water extraction policy; and that the department chose to ignore or “cherry-pick” the analysis and recommendations from the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) and other sources, namely that the water could be drawn off until stream base flow (levels only from groundwater) hit 35%.  The CRI cautioned never to let irrigation happen when the baseflow is all there is — only extracting water when there is at least a certain percent of streamflow (from rain) in local streams.

Now these assessments are my inferences from listening to every presenter to the committee after the Environment Minister and her entourage.

Last spring, Horace Carver was criss-crosing the Island, listening to Islanders,reading every previous commission, every roundtable, every task force and action committee, and after very long and hard thought, came to his conclusions thatincreasing potato acreage is not going to improve soil or the bottom line.

From his report The Gift of Jurisdiction: Our Island Province:
The Commission does not doubt, as they claim, that many potato producers are doing a good job when it comes to protecting against soil erosion and maintaining an acceptable level of soil organic matter content. However, the following facts cannot be ignored:
1.    Potato yield is related to soil quality;
2.    A significant number of potato producers do not comply with the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act;
3.    The precise number of acres not in compliance is unknown since the Department of Agriculture and Forestry does not verify compliance through field checks;
4.    There have been no successful prosecutions since the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act was proclaimed in 2002; and
5.    Soil organic matter, a principle indicator of soil quality, continues to decline.


The Commission recommends:
3. That the aggregate land holding limits of 1,000 acres of land for an individual and 3,000 acres of land for a corporation apply only to ‘arable land’ – a term to be defined in the revised Lands Protection Act – and that the maximum amount of non-arable land holdings be set at 400 acres for individuals and 1,200 acres for corporations.

The Commission Recommends:
4. That before any future increase to the arable aggregate land holding limits is considered, government and the agriculture sector must
commit to actions and report satisfactory progress to

  • Through collaborative research, identify barriers to profitability and quantify the relationship, if any, between farm size and profitability;
  • Improve compliance with the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act, improve soil quality, and reduce losses from soil erosion; and
  • Evaluate and report on the potential impact on rural communities of further farm consolidation.

The Commission believes the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act has the potential to bring about significant improvements in soil quality, crop yields, and farm profitability.
But, as the hollow instrument that it is now, the Agriculture Crop Rotation Act lacks force and will never be effective until the agricultural community itself takes ownership of the problem and required solutions. To do nothing is not an option.

As a further comment on the subject of aggregate land holding limits, the Commission realizes there are some who believe the decision on “How much land is enough?” should be left to those who currently own and control the most land. History teaches us that the Lands Protection Act was brought in for the express purpose of providing all Islanders, through their elected representatives, with a say in the matter. In this regard, the Commission believes nothing has changed.

Amazingly clear analysis and strong words.  

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