Monaghan Farms Ltd.
Prince Edward Island’s rich, red soil is well suited for growing potatoes –something Monaghan Farms Ltd. has been doing for six generations. The family-run farm, which dates back to the late 1840s, has grown by leaps and bounds and is now PEI’s largest supplier of potatoes to Frito-Lay.
Monaghan Farms’ rich farming history begins with Thomas Curley, one of many Irish immigrants who left Monaghan County in Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. Thomas settled into the Freetown area of PEI and established a farm.
Although Monaghan Farms now grows on more than 3,500 acres between the company and contract growers, the same small acreage that started the Curley family farming tradition remains. Acreage expanded over the years and by 1982, Monaghan Farms started selling potatoes in the processing market.
An exclusive relationship
“The farm really traces back to 1845,” says Terry Curley, fifth-generation president of Monaghan Farms. “I’ve been in this business for 30 years; my father farmed and his before him and so on. 12 years ago, we started exporting to various Frito-Lay plants around the world and now it makes up the lion’s share of our business.”
The company’s relationship with Frito-Lay began when Monaghan Farms brought some of its potatoes as a sample to the Frito-Lay Nova Scotia plant. “They liked what they saw and we’ve built our business with them from there,” tells Terry.
In the past, Monaghan Farms has grown potatoes for McCains, Cavendish Farms and Humpty Dumpty, but today the company maintains an exclusive relationship with Frito-Lay. “Monaghan Farms is one of the largest suppliers of raw product worldwide –from Southeast Asia to Central and South America and still the Nova Scotia plants,” details Terry. “80 percent of our potatoes sales are now international.”
Spuds up on international sales
As the smallest Canadian province, PEI is the county’s largest producer of potatoes. Terry says other farms have been producing spuds for hundreds of years, but Monaghan Farms was one of the first to establish a major export arrangement. “Our company is responsible for 40 percent of total potato exports from PEI,” measures Terry. “We’re competing on an international scale –it could be better and bigger, but we were the first ones here to have an export arrangement on a preseason signed contract basis.”
But Monaghan Farms wouldn’t be able to supply such a large amount of chip potatoes without the help of regional contract growers. “We currently have 3,500 acres under production, of which about 1,500 acres are farmed by contract growers,” explains Terry.
Collaboration with these local growers allows Monaghan Farms to supply Frito-Lay plants from Canada to the Caribbean, Central America to Asia and beyond. “Once harvested, the potatoes are washed, treated, sized and in-house, so when they reach the customer, they’re ready to be processed at their plant,” tells Terry. “Our growers also have washing facilities, which are not as large as ours, but we work together as a group.”
Improving from the field to the lab
Keeping up with a global customer base means Monaghan Farms must run efficiently. “We’re always trying to modernize our equipment,” says Terry. “We have automatic computer grades and GPS controlled equipment –it’s all pretty standard technology for larger farms nowadays, but it makes a difference.”
Monaghan Farms plants potato seed by way of two six-row Grimme cup planters. The planters have the capability for accurate seed spacing which ensures highest yield potential and quality. The tractors powering the planters are equipped with GPS that also drives efficiencies. The GPS systems can control right down to sub-inch accuracy, meaning valuable land resources are used to the fullest potential.
“We also have an in-house testing lab to try new varieties and run research trials,” adds Terry. But, it is not efficiency that Terry claims as the main hurdle for Monaghan Farms; it is competing with global trade regulations. “We’re competing against the Pacific Northwest in the U.S., Egypt, China and Australia, but we’re doing a good amount of volume because of the quality of our PEI potatoes and our close proximity to shipping lanes in Halifax,” he adds.
For the most part, potatoes are normally left off trade agreements, says Terry, but Monaghan Farms does have to meet quota requirements. “The challenge for us coming down the line is to work with free-trade agreements, pulling for Canada’s favor and getting duties and other restrictions reduced so we can continue to compete globally,” he explains.
Deals such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a freshly negotiated EU-Canada treaty and one of the largest Canada has ever signed, have the potential to impact Monaghan Farms. But Terry says, as in any business, you just do what you can to work around the challenges. “It doesn’t matter what business you’re in –there are always challenges and you just work through them,” he considers
Luckily for Monaghan Farms, there are sixth-generation family members ready to tackle the next challenge. “My son, Derrick Curley, operations manager and my daughter-in-law are involved in the business,” shares Terry. “We have a lot of great people in this company; after all, you’re only as good as your people.”
At times the global economy is uncertain, but Monaghan Farms Ltd. is running on six generations of producing some of the world’s best PEI potatoes.