Monaghan Farms: Growing Potatoes, Growing Community
Prince Edward Island’s rich red earth is perfectly suited to growing potatoes, and the fertile soil at Monaghan Farms is no exception to the rule. “I started growing potatoes with my father when I was 18,” says owner Terry Curley. That was 30 years ago, and since then the family business has steadily grown—it now operates on 3,000 acres, which is no small feat in Canada’s smallest province.
All of Monaghan Farms’ potatoes go to Frito-Lay for processing. Curley and his business partner, Rod McNeil of West Isle Enterprises, have contracts with eight local farmers, who buy Frito-Lay-developed varieties of potato seed from Monaghan Farms. Curley and McNeil then buy the potatoes and ship them around the globe to Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, Canada and, in varying degrees depending on the year, the United States. “Frito-Lay is the second-largest buyer of processing potatoes on P.E.I., and we are the main suppliers for Frito-Lay on the Island,” says Curley. “About 10 years ago, with encouragement from Frito-Lay, we started to do our own exports of new varieties. We started on a small scale and the operation grew as the market grew. We are now one of the largest Frito-Lay raw potato exporters worldwide.”
Beyond its export business, Monaghan Farms provides a weekly scouting operation for all of its growers as part of an integrated pest management system, and also performs variety testing for Frito-Lay. On the farm, attention to detail is everything, according to Curley, and he applies this philosophy to all aspects of his operation, from on-farm safety and sustainability measures to quality testing after production. “We try to maintain an environment of sustainability—Frito-Lay is really excited about trying to reduce the use of water and chemicals,” he says. Monaghan Farms also puts emphases on reducing soil erosion, using cover crops and rotations, and following buffer zones around water courses. Before any potato loads are shipped, they are meticulously tested in Monaghan Farms’ labs, and samples are fried to ensure quality. Bins are also monitored for quality, as are shipping containers, which are each fitted with tracking devices.
With Monaghan Farms’ strong track record for product quality and positive business relationships, the future looks promising. “I think if we can continue to sell product and sell potatoes for offshore export it’s a win-win for everyone,” says Curley.
He’s quick to give credit where credit is due, however, and he has high praise for the farmers he and his family work with on the Island. “We’re all in the same boat; we all have to meet the same standards. But they do a great job.” Each of the eight farms in partnership with Monaghan Farms is located within a 20-mile radius. It’s a tight-knit community—the producers aren’t only partners, but neighbours.
People form the basis of Curley’s business philosophy. Monaghan Farms employs 35–40 people during the busiest seasons, and no fewer than 10 during the slowest, and Curley sees these relationships as the foundation to success. “We try to put a strong emphasis on employees and growing partners. It’s all about the people—I can’t emphasize that enough. The people who work with us are all farm families, brothers and sisters and parents and children. There’s a saying that ‘You’re only as good as your people’—that’s certainly true around here.”