Cavendish Developing Drought-Resistant Varieties

Published online: Mar 07, 2019 Articles, Seed Potatoes Katherine Hunt
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Source: Charlottetown Guardian 

Cavendish Farms is working to develop potato seeds that can thrive in dry growing conditions on Prince Edward Island, says the company’s president Robert Irving.

Irving was a guest speaker during the P.E.I. Youth Farmers annual general meeting at Murphy’s Community Centre Saturday.

“We’ve got a whole seed investment now,” said Irving. “We’ve got a seed specialist and we’re putting up a seed farm here to develop new types of seed varieties and new types of potatoes to get better yield, better quality.”

While Irving’s presentation focused on customer care, during a question and answer session he spoke about the importance of developing potatoes that could thrive in drought-like conditions.

The last two harvests of P.E.I. potatoes have produced lower than average yields, partially because of hot summer temperatures with little rain. Growers saw further complications in 2018 with an unusually rainy fall, which led to thousands of acres of potatoes being left in the ground.

To make up for the shortfall, Irving said Cavendish Farms imported millions of pounds of potatoes from other provinces and the United States for its New Annan plant.

“To bring in potatoes from Idaho, you’re talking millions and millions and millions of dollars,” said Irving.

Irving was asked if Cavendish Farms, which is the largest purchaser of P.E.I. potatoes, would stay committed to the province if farming seasons continue to provide low yields.

While Irving said that would not be sustainable, he added changing weather was a global issue.

“If we don’t have potatoes, we don’t have a future,” said Irving. “You’ve got a thriving business here, a thriving agriculture. We’ve got to make sure we’re proactive with how we deal with it because this global change in weather is impacting many areas.”

Irving said supplemental irrigation would also help the potato industry during dry weather conditions.

“If it’s a drought-type, then we need supplemental irrigation,” he said.

Cavendish Farms has previously asked for the province to lift its moratorium on deep-water wells. When the company announced the closure of its packaging plant near O’Leary last summer, it said the industry required supplemental irrigation to remain sustainable.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s meeting also saw a land bank program proposed to the 40 members in attendance.

A land bank program is a program in which the provincial government would buy the land of older and retiring farmers and lease it or rent it to future young farmers to expand their operations.

Ian Drake, president of the association, said land was a hot topic among members.

“They’re not making any more land and the price of land is a big concern for all farmers for expanding their operations,” he said.