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P.E.I. Potato Board general manager resigns

general manager resigns


March 31, 2008
By Kathy Birt

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Long-time P.E.I. Potato Board general manager, Ivan Noonan, has resigned.

Long-time P.E.I. Potato Board general manager, Ivan Noonan, has resigned.

Noonan, who held the position of board GM for 12 years, made the announcement in mid-March following a decision by P.E.I.’s Natural Products Appeals Tribunal to refund $700,000 in fees to 65 processing potato producers. He admits there may be people who believe his sudden resignation is connected to the ruling but dismisses that as the catalyst. “I’m not happy with it (the decision) but that’s not the reason.”

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During his time working for the board, Noonan has seen the Island’s potato growers through tough times. Some consider the potato wart crisis of 2001, which resulted in P.E.I. potato shipments to the U.S. being blocked at the border for more than six months, as one of the biggest challenges of the general manager’s career.

This was followed by the problem of a growing glut of potatoes on the North American market in 2003 and 2004, which left Island growers dumping millions of pounds of potatoes rather then sell them for below the cost of production.

When U.S. potato growers reduced their crop acreage in the spring of 2005 and formed the United Potato Growers of America (UPGA), it was Noonan and the P.E.I. Potato Board who first showed interest in spreading the initiative north of the border.

Morley Wood, chair of the P.E.I. Potato Board, credits Noonan as being instrumental in getting the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC) off the ground. It was during a P.E.I. potato meeting in the spring of 2005 that Albert Wada, chair of the UPGA, first discussed the idea of reducing North American potato production, helping to plant the idea of uniting Canadian potato growers. Noonan listened and, with the same energy he gave the potato wart crisis, took action, helping to form the UPGC and serving as co-chair of the group’s steering committee.

It was also Noonan who approached Island potato growers with a buy-back program, which involved removing 10,000 acres from potato production in 2005.  To finance the buy-back, levies were doubled for all spud growers to 14 cents per cwt.

But about 65 processing growers decided to fight back, arguing their sector of the industry did not contribute to the glut and should not have to finance the buy-back program.

Three of those growers – Dwight Gardiner, Leslie MacKay and Allison Dennis – launched an appeal to P.E.I.’s Natural Products Appeals Tribunal in the fall of 2005. In its March 2006 ruling, the tribunal agreed the processing sector should be assessed additional levies since the potato industry’s welfare depends on all three sectors – seed, table and processing. But the tribunal did adjust the levy for the plaintiff growers to 9.6 cents/cwt, translating into a $700,000 refund.

MacKay, who grows near New London, says the decision, which he calls “historic,” gave both sides something. “It gave recognition to the board that they had to increase levies to a degree, and we got some money back.”

While he admits processing growers were aiming for a 100 per cent roll back of the levies, MacKay says the decision by the tribunal has proven something for the processors. “The tribunal has never overturned a decision of any farm board in its history, so it’s significant and we recognize the decision of the tribunal and respect that.”

Wood says it is with deep regret that the P.E.I. Potato Board accepts Noonan’s resignation. “Ivan has been a tremendous ally for the potato industry and his knowledge of the whole industry across the country is second to none,” he states.