The sod was officially turned Sept. 18 on the $360 million Cavendish Farms potato processing plant in Lethbridge.
Initially announced in December 2016, the plant represents the largest private investment in the city’s history.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley joined Cavendish Farms President Robert K. Irving to hold shovels signifying construction start, accompanied by Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman.
A government news release indicates construction is expected to create up to 400 jobs, and upon completion the plant will require about 9,000 acres of potatoes. At $3,500 to $4,000 per acre, potatoes are among the highest value crops grown in the region.
“The record investment Cavendish Farms is making in Lethbridge is good for our farmers and producers, good for the entire community and good for our growing economy,” said Notley.
“Together with the City of Lethbridge, the federal government and the good folks at Cavendish, we are creating more opportunities for our agricultural workers, more jobs for people in the area and even more reasons to be proud of an industry central to who we are as Albertans.”
Irving said the plant will be “state of the art” and shows the company’s commitment to its employees, growers and customers.
The provincial and federal governments have committed $20 million to the City of Lethbridge to make infrastructure improvements that will accommodate the new plant. Among those are upgrades to the water system in the new industrial park on the northeast side of the city, which is where the Cavendish project is located.
An additional $1.88 million from Growing Forward 2 was earmarked to pay for pre-engineering studies. Yet another $1 million from the province was designated for Lethbridge’s agri-food processing capacity development project, according to the news release.
Cavendish has operated a potato processing facility in the city since 2012, when it acquired the former Maple Leaf Foods plant. Options for expansion at that location are limited so the company opted for a new plant and site.
Southern Alberta is home to two other potato plants. McCain’s and Lamb-Weston operate processing facilities near Coaldale and Taber, respectively. At present, about 45,000 acres of potatoes are grown in the region annually. The Cavendish announcement would bring that total to about 50,000 acres of potatoes once the new plant is operating.