It was not only the Irving family and politicians toasting the official opening of the new $430 million Cavendish Farms plant in Lethbridge on Oct. 3, but the entire local potato-growing industry.
“It is great to see the potato industry grow like it has in the last 15 years,” said Greg Nakamura, owner of Nakamura Farms which has supplied potatoes to the local french fry processing plants for the past 45 years. “To have Cavendish expand, and choose Alberta, makes me proud. It is a representation of the quality of potatoes Alberta can grow, and that’s what’s bringing these plants to Alberta. Our reputation is we are second-to-none in quality.”
“It’s an opportunity for new growers to expand if they so desire,” agreed Terance Hochstein, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta, “and also an opportunity for existing growers to come online.
“Growers have already expanded their acres somewhat,” he stated, “and there is existing irrigated land that hasn’t had potatoes on it in the past.
“The growing area is going to expand— it’s going to go farther north and east. It’s going to go more into that Brooks, Tilley, Rolling Hills area, and eventually down into that Seven Persons area. But the ground is there.”
Nakamura said the expanded Cavendish plant gives him great optimism for the future of the southern Alberta potato-growing industry.
“This expansion has given a lot of the younger generation (of growers) the opportunity to expand,” he affirmed.
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen said the new Cavendish Farms plant is in industrial multiplier for agriculture and the agri-food processing industry throughout the entire province.
“It’s a fantastic announcement for Lethbridge and for agriculture here in the province of Alberta,” Dreeshen said. “To be able to have this hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and the hundreds of local jobs that are going to be created from it— it’s great. And it’s six or seven years worth of work with the Potato Growers of Alberta to try to attract this investment, and it’s just a great news day here in the province of Alberta.”
Dreeshen acknowledged there might be one little fly in the ointment of this abundance of positive goodwill surrounding the new Cavendish plant— snowy weather which has, at minimum, significantly delayed harvest of the valuable southern Alberta potato crop and, in the worst case, potentially seriously devalued the crop for local growers when they do get it out of the ground.
He said his government stands ready to assist in that eventuality.
“It is something we are reviewing, and working with AFSC, to see if there is going to be extra claims,” Dreeshen explained. “Hopefully though, the snow does melt and farmers can get their crops off. There will obviously be degradation of their crops. We’re monitoring it, and we will be there working with farmers.”
Hochstein also similarly hoped his members would get their crop off before significant devaluation becomes inevitable.
“When potatoes start getting cooler in the ground, they start converting starch into sugars, and they get some darkening,” he explained. “But (early enough) that is reversible in storage. In storage, if you manage it right, you can turn them around.”
Hochstein told Ag-Matters at the beginning of October the next two weeks would be “crucial,” and his growers hoped to avoid additional snow and frost.
However, another major snowstorm on Oct. 8, and subsequent cold weather, likely cast all that into doubt during this potato harvest season.
There was no word as of press time what the consequences of that storm might bring. At Ag-Matters, we hope for the eventual success of all our potato growers in the region.