As a McCain’s grower, Merle Ellis is not sure where, if at all, he will sell his potatoes next year, but the West Cape resident said he is more concerned for the plant workers who will be out of jobs when McCain Foods (Canada) closes its Albany processing plant in October.
“I feel sorry for the 121 people. Some of them were there for 20 years. Where are they going to go?” Ellis commented.
Ellis got his call at noontime that the processor was closing its Prince Edward Island operations at the end of October. “It was a surprise but not a surprise,” he said.
“There’s an efficiency point, and if you look at the plant, it was below that efficiency point. You can’t have a couple million dollar plant and run it four days a week.”
In its announcement, McCain Foods noted the P.E.I. plant has declined by two-thirds in the last decade and had become the smallest and least utilized facility in the company’s North American network.
The company has advised its 23 growers that it will honour this year’s contracts even with its P.E.I. plant set to close October 31 and will pay the costs of transporting the remainder of the crop to New Brunswick after that date.
Ellis is not ready to look past this year’s crop just yet. “Never make a decision based on emotion,” he said. “Take some time to think about it.”
Summerside area grower and P.E.I. Potato Board spokesman Gary Linkletter first learned of the McCain’s announcement when contacted by the Journal Pioneer. “That’s terrible news. I mean it’s been a concern to the province and the industry here for a while, but I actually thought they were trying to buy a few more potatoes for the plant and keep it going stead. So it’s quite a shock,” said Linkletter who admits part of his crop is contracted to McCain’s.
While he acknowledged McCain’s was not the biggest potato processing plant in the province, he said it was a vital part of the mix. “It’s always good to have competition and it also still took quite a few thousand acres still. So it’s certainly going to reduce the options the industry has for selling its crop.”
Rhonda Shaw said her husband, Adair, received their call over the noon hour. “We weren’t surprised,” said the co-owner of Oyster Creek Farm in Cascumpec.
“The word was they were top-heavy,” she said, adding that the company just hasn’t been the same since Wallace and Harrison McCain handed over the reins of the operation.
Oyster Creek Farm, she said, has contracts with both McCain’s and Cavendish Farms, as do many of the McCain’s growers who got the news Thursday. She said they don’t plan to stop growing, “but, let’s put it this way, ‘we’re moving forward cautiously.’”
Jeff Smallman from Knutsford doesn’t have contracts with either of the processors on P.E.I. So, while the announcement doesn't affect him directly he said, indirectly, all P.E.I. growers who remain in the business are affected, because the displaced McCain’s growers will be looking for contracts somewhere.
“The bigger picture is the economy of P.E.I. and the loss of 121 good jobs,” said Ellis who includes himself in a group of six to eight growers who have contracts solely with McCain’s.
“I’ll survive,” he said. He’s not so confident about McCain’s three fertilizer plants in the province, especially if the company does not have contract growers here.
A company spokesman said McCain’s has no contract plans for next year on P.E.I. but admitted that might be a consideration for down the road. As for the fertilizer plans, she said McCain’s plans to remain a significant player in the fertilizer business in P.E.I.