Environment cannot be held for ransom

Published on June 13, 2014

So, Cavendish Farms is suggesting they might have to downsize their operations in Prince Edward Island if the moratorium on deep-water wells is not lifted.

That would be regrettable.

Cavendish Farms is a major employer in this jobs-scarce province and the conduit through which thousands of acres of quality Prince Edward Island potatoes make it to market.

Can we afford to lose any of the more than one billion dollars in economic impact Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving says his company has on Prince Edward Island? Certainly not.

But is removing the moratorium on deep-water wells so that the farmers can supply Cavendish Farms with more spuds per acre - and more uniform spuds at that - worth adding further risk Prince Edward Island’s environment? Absolutely not.

It’s no great secret that potato production has had a detrimental affect on Prince Edward Island’s environment already. Nitrate levels in streams and ground water have gone up. Fields have been so severely mined of fiber that agricultural run-off is clogging Island streams and pesticide-laced soil is killing fish and creating human health concerns.

Of course, there are mixed messages about the impact of sinking more deep-water wells into Island bedrock. Some, including proponents for removing the moratorium, insist the groundwater recharge is so great that those wells will have no negative impact. Others warn of streams and private wells going dry.

Who’s right?

Until we know otherwise we have to sit with those who insist the moratorium remain in place.

Gary Linkletter, chairman of the P.E.I. Potato Board, is proposing the province do the research and find out for sure.

That’s reasonable.

Just don’t drill any deep-water wells until it is proven the wells will do no harm.

The results must leave no room for doubt.

It would seem, though, that some of the other problems with potato production – the mining of potato land and contamination problems – should be fixed before other changes are considered.

There are some things about this deep-water wells debate that can’t be comforting to Island growers. On one hand, Linkletter was assuring members of the Legislature this week that, because of the cost of irrigation equipment, not all growers would irrigate if the moratorium were lifted.

But Irving said his company might not sign contracts with growers who do not irrigate.

A lifting of the moratorium might actually pressure growers into investing into deep-water wells and force them to increase production just to recover their costs. Then we might see even more acres in production, larger crops of perfectly shaped potatoes and lower demand. At least, right now, growers can tell the buyers they are not allowed to drill.