SUMMERSIDE - The Island potato industry is reeling from the announcement that McCain Foods will close its Borden-Carleton french fry facility on Oct. 31.
“As is the situation in several parts of North America, contract volumes at McCain’s P.E.I. plant were reduced over the past few years,” said P.E.I. Potato Board chairman Gary Linkletter. “We understand that global french fry demand has increased significantly during 2014, and we had hoped that McCain would use the excess processing capacity in Borden to supply some of that expanded demand. Instead, we’re now dealing with the loss of the plant.”
Representatives from the P.E.I. Potato Board met with senior McCain officials on several occasions over the past few years to seek ways of stabilizing and increasing the volume of potatoes processed in Borden-Carleton. The board had also discussed the situation with senior government officials.
“Our growers are competitive and were consistently able to meet the quality specifications that McCain sought,” Linkletter said. “However, McCain is a global company and running the plant at less than half its capacity means additional costs on the finished product. That in itself impacts pricing and markets for the product. We would have liked to see the volume return to original levels to address this.”
In 2014, McCain contracted with 23 Island family farms for delivery of over $7 million worth of potatoes to the Borden-Carleton plant. McCain representatives have confirmed that they will honour the contracts they’ve signed with growers for 2014, but plans for beyond 2014 are not known at this point.
“We have had some discussions with provincial and federal government representatives today, and we’ll sit down with them shortly to discuss options for finding other markets, including reverting to delivering potatoes to McCain facilities in New Brunswick for processing in 2015 and beyond,” Linkletter said. “We’d also like to identify a means of keeping the plant operating in some manner.”
Jonathan Greenan, president of the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce, expressed dismay in response to the sudden announcement by McCain Foods, Thursday.
“This decision by McCain’s will have an immediate impact on families, communities and
the agriculture industry all across Prince County,” said Greenan. “It is a significant and
upsetting loss for the Island economy and, most importantly, for the 121 people who are
losing their jobs.”
“One hundred and twenty-one new jobs aren’t going to appear overnight in P.E.I.,” he said.
The chamber sees McCain’s decision to close the Borden-Carleton facility as an opportunity to take a critical look at the local economic situation.
“Prince County – and all Prince Edward Island – needs a jobs strategy for the future that
reflects changing national and international economic realities, with leadership and buy-in at all levels of government,” said Greenan. “It’s long past time to get this conversation
The Island Green Party of P.E.I. is deeply saddened for the workers, families and communities which will be adversely affected by the closure of the McCain factory in Borden Carleton. But the news of closure was entirely predictable given the economic factors at play.
The Green Party believes that this closure is just the latest casualty of an economic approach in which P.E.I. attempts to compete in a global market place despite some significant and insurmountable disadvantages. Being far from markets, having a shorter growing season and inferior soils, and growing for a market where the advantages of scale provide benefits to ever-larger growers, create substantial handicaps for P.E.I. producers.
“As long as P.E.I. continues to pursue this model and places its economic future in the hands of corporations competing globally, we will be vulnerable to such closures. It is critical that we develop a new approach to our provincial economic future where development is suited to our situation,” said P.E.I. Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker.