P.E.I. Growers to Government: We Need Water

Published online: Sep 27, 2021 Articles, Irrigation Wayne Thibodeau
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Source: CBC

The Prince Edward Island Potato Board made its pitch to provincial members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) on the importance of water to growing potatoes. The board appeared before a legislative standing committee looking for a sustainable irrigation strategy.

Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says the industry is competitive and irrigation ensures producers can consistently meet customers' demands. He said irrigation also ensures potato producers can survive, especially as the province sees more drought conditions.

"A reduction of 35 per cent in revenue can put a farm out of business," Donald told MLAs. "So it impacts our customers, current and long-term, and also for a producer it can be such a blow that they may not recover from it or it may take years [to recover from it] — so supplemental irrigation, it may not always mean a boost in productivity but at least maintaining it at a sustainable level." 

Earlier this summer, the potato board took MLAs on a tour of potato farms.

MLAs visited three farms, one which irrigates with a pond, another that uses surface water and a third that uses high-capacity wells.

Donald said it was valuable for legislators to hear directly from farmers. 

Last week, the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance told the same legislative committee more data gathering, research and monitoring are needed to understand the impacts supplemental irrigation would have on both land and water in the province.

The P.E.I. Watershed Alliance is composed of 24 watershed groups from across the province, who work to improve and protect the environmental quality of the Island's watersheds, or areas of land where water collects and then flows out to rivers, streams or the ocean.

The new Water Act came into effect in June, putting an end to P.E.I.'s moratorium on new, high-capacity irrigation wells after 19 years, but the government has said no new wells will be permitted until an irrigation strategy is implemented.

During Thursday's presentation, Donald said about 84,000 acres of potatoes have been planted this year, which is similar to past years. About 60 percent of that goes to the processing industry, with 30 percent being sold on the fresh market and 10 percent going to seed.

The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture will be appearing before the legislative committee next week.