Growers relish supplying new plant

Cavendish’s proposed processing facility in Lethbridge will require another 9,700 acres of potatoes

Another 9,700 acres of potatoes will be needed in southern Alberta to supply the new Cavendish plant in Lethbridge that was officially announced Dec. 12.

Greg Nakamura, whose family has been growing potatoes in the region for more than 45 years, said it might be a challenge to find those additional acres, but it can and will be done.

“I think it’s exciting times for the potato industry. The opportunity to grow, I think it’s great,” Nakamura said during the announcement at Lethbridge City Hall.

“Cavendish is a company that’s well respected in the industry and so we’re really welcoming the opportunity.”

Terence Hochstein, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta, echoed that opinion.

“The added approximately 10,000 acres of production it will take to fill this plant is great news,” he said, adding the acres will be found.

“We’ve had a number of discussions with the various necessary parties to be, and it will take some juggling, but I think it’s very doable. One of the things that we’re very focused and cognizant of is Alberta has got a great reputation of running a four-year rotation and it is the growers’ resolve to remain on a four-year rotation growing potatoes. That’s what makes our potatoes as good as they are.”

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Cavendish president Robert Irving came to Lethbridge to announce the new plant, estimated to cost $350 million. It will be the largest commercial investment in the city’s history.

Construction is expected to start this spring and be completed by summer 2019, Irving said. The plant, to be built in the city’s new industrial park, will replace the existing Cavendish facility, which it bought in 2012. The approximately 170 employees will be retained and work at the new facility.

“The new plant will replace our current aging plant … that has reached its capacity and expansion potential,” Irving said.

“It will more than double our annual production capacity at that plant to meet growing demand for our products.”

The current plant produces 160 million pounds of frozen potato products annually. The new one is expected to produce 415 million lb., “so it’s a huge leap in terms of size and scale.”

Cavendish will pay $7.9 million for 287 acres in northeastern Lethbridge with an anticipated closing date on the deal of March 31, 2017.

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Mayor Chris Spearman referred to Cavendish as a blue chip company that recognized the city’s value as an agricultural hub.

“We are being seen as a city that is an attractive place to invest, and Cavendish has chosen the right time to come, before the stampede happens,” Spearman said.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier also lauded the announcement and noted that southern Alberta is already home to 30 percent of the province’s food processing operations.

“I first met Mr. Irving in Prince Edward Island in the summer of 2015,” said Carlier.

“He asked me, would Alberta like to see an expansion? I said, ‘hell, yeah. It sounds like a good idea.’ ”

Nakamura said Alberta and its growers have a reputation for providing good product, and proximity to export markets in Asia give it an advantage over other regions. It is also well placed to compete with product from Washington state, he added.

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