An uneasy peace has broken out in the so-called Cucumber War between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Hostilities began on May 19 when Newfoundland Agriculture Minister Charles Power announced that the province hoped to conquer mainland cucumber markets. And shortly after the first invasion of the greens— two truckloads of provincially subsidized cukes—began rolling toward Halifax, Power said that his first objective was to put Nova Scotia greenhouse operators out of business. Declared Power: “No one is going to stop us. We have a very well-thought-out plan.” But Newfoundland’s strategy of retailing cucumbers for as little as 59 cents each—51 cents lower than the production cost—touched off a storm of protest in Nova Scotia. In response, Premier Brian Peckford apologized to mainland growers last week for “any misunderstanding created through a misinterpretation” of Power’s comments. And he denied that there was an “insidious plot” to take over the Maritime cucumber markets.
Indeed, Peckford maintained that such a plan would collide with his government’s policy of strengthening the free flow of goods between provinces. Then in an attempt to eliminate the glare of unwelcome publicity, Peckford said that government members would no longer make comments on the daily marketing decisions of a giant vegetable-growing operation near St. John’s, Nfld.—including its continued exports to the mainland. But that tactic did not halt criticism of the government’s joint venture with Calgary businessman Philip Sprung, whose $22-million project currently is producing seven million pounds of cucumbers annually in a soil-less environment in which plastic tubes supply the growing plants with chemical nutrients.
The Sprung greenhouses—distinctive translucent pods spread over 8.4 acres—have already received $14 million in provincial subsidies since they began operating last year. For their part, opposition members charge that the greenhouses’ annual production far exceeds the needs of the province’s 580,000 residents and that, as a result, it has forced the government to undertake such ventures as the attempted invasion of Nova Scotian markets. Now, according to provincial Liberal Leader Clyde Wells, the Great Cuke War has made Newfoundland the butt of jokes across Canada.
Certainly, Newfoundland’s cut-rate cucumbers may have a harder time shouldering their way into mainland markets. A Halifax-based wholesale supplier, Clover Produce Ltd., purchased the shipment that sparked the marketing war two weeks ago. But as the cucumbers pile up in Newfoundland, a Clover spokesman said that the firm had temporarily cancelled further orders as a peace offering to local growers who also supply the company.
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