Ever since their arrival from Ireland in 1820, the Mooney family has farmed the land of PEI. Today, this fifth-generation potato farm is owned and operated by brothers Andy, David and Merlin Mooney.
“We grew up in farming,” says Andy Mooney. Like most traditional farming families on the Island, Andy and his brothers took over the farm from their father. Each brother has a different role on the farm. Andy maintains the grading warehouse, David maintains the important machinery, and Merlin works and supervises the fields. They may have their different roles, but Andy, David, and Merlin work together to keep their farm running.
“We work so hard to get a crop, and after the weather and other factors, it’s nice to see healthy yields.” For Andy, putting in the work and watching a crop grow is the most rewarding part of the job.
Arthur Mooney & Sons Ltd. is a recipient of the Soil Conservationist of the Year award from the PEI Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
Their potatoes are shipped to restaurant chains such as Swiss Chalet and Mary Browns. These bags contain larger potatoes which the restaurants use to make their own French fries. Mooney’s potatoes are shipped from PEI to Newfoundland and to Ontario. Additionally, one to two loads a week of five pound bags are shipped to Puerto Rico.
The work day varies throughout the year, but days typically start early for farmers. During harvest time, workers at Mooney’s arrive in the field around 6 am. Workers begin by checking machinery and making sure tractors and other vehicles important to the job are maintained and fueled. By 7 am, harvesters and windrowers are running and people in the warehouse are grading potatoes.
Mooney’s farm operates year round. The hiring schedule usually depends on the season, and many of their part-time and seasonal workers return year after year.
Some of the jobs they hire for are:
- general laborers
- truck drivers
- heavy machine operators (farming)
- potato graders
Andy says as the years go on, it gets harder to find workers who have experience in farming, and so it becomes difficult to replace people. “Not many years ago, there were a lot of smaller farms, and they all had kids. I’ve talked to other farmers who remember being able to pick up guys who could step in and just know what they were doing. Now there seems to be more of a learning curve.”
These farm owners believe in maintaining a professional and friendly work place. “When people get along, they work well together, and seasonal workers are more likely to return in the spring and fall.”
About the staff
Ten people work year round. The harvest brings with it more hiring. In the fall, about 10 extra workers are called in to drive trucks to help move the harvest. By winter time, the number of workers decreases to about 13, and work picks up again during planting time in spring.
Andy spent time as a mechanic in the Canadian Armed Forces, and believes that his experience helped him learn to operate and maintain the heavy machinery, tractors and other vehicles involved in farming.
Andy talks about the importance of having workers with a more diverse skill set, especially in trades such as mechanics and welding. “Years ago, there were a lot of programs for farmers to learn welding, mechanics, and other skills. Even on the grading line there is a lot of maintenance. When hiring, we like to see workers with a background in skills such as maintenance and mechanics.”
The Mooneys also value honesty and punctuality, a strong work ethic, and a willingness to put in longer hours (within reason). “We need people who like to work. If something breaks, and we have some down time, it’s refreshing to see someone who picks up a broom and starts sweeping just to stay busy. We don’t like to let that type of person go.”
Even on the grading line, Andy says it helps to have people with actual experience working with potatoes to know what to take out and what stays. “The grader moves fast, so it can take time to catch on. Some people are just better at it than others.”
How to get your foot in the door
The Mooneys are willing to teach those interested in agriculture by having them come in during the evening or on weekends. This can lead to summer job positions and a vocation in the agricultural sector.
The best way to apply for work with Arthur Mooney & Sons Ltd. is to stop in with a resumé and speak with them in person.
Unique jobs in agriculture
In addition to agriculture labour jobs, many other jobs are related to agriculture and science.
Those who work in chemistry develop pesticides and fertilizers. Biologists develop different types of seed.
Some farmers hire Field Scouts, who help determine the best time to spray pesticides by examining plants to look for different types of pests.
“They walk our fields all summer, identify invasive bugs, and tell us the best time to spray to take them out. For example, the European corn borer lays egg masses that look like fish scales, and are hard to see. Once they hatch, they burrow into the plant, and then you can’t kill them. So spraying must be timed perfectly. The Scouts can determine when the bugs are about to hatch, so that we can spray and get most of them.”
Professional Field Scouts help cut down on the amount of spraying, so that farmers spray only when they need to. This allows farmers to use just the right amount of spray to get a healthy crop.
Those looking to become Field Scouts usually obtain a degree in agriculture from a university such as Dalhousie. Companies like Cavendish Farms and other fertilizer companies offer more specialized courses. Jobs for Field Scouts (sometimes called Crop Scouts) are often posted on the PEI Agriculture Sector Council website.
Andy says that the Agriculture sector is strong on the Island. “There is ample opportunity for those who might also consider vocations that deal with the more scientific side of the agricultural sector.”
For more information about the many educational choices in agriculture, visit www.dal.ca/faculty/agriculture/about/contact-us.html.
For more information about the many agriculture career choices, visit PEI Agriculture Sector Council at www.peiagsc.ca.