Potato sector counts the cost of poor weather

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Potato crops are three weeks behind where they normally should be for this time of the year, according to Wilson’s Country managing director Lewis Cunningham.

“This is a direct consequence of the poor spring weather, with both early and main crops affected in equal measure,” he said.

“It’s too early to say yet if final yields and quality will be reduced. However, an improvement in the weather will be required to provide crops with a much needed opportunity to recover from the poor start to the 2015 growing season.”

Cunningham also indicated that this year’s potato acreage could be significantly down on 2014 levels.

“We are currently canvassing our farmers,” he added.

“But again the late spring may well have curtailed the opportunity for growers to gets crops planted.”

New season Comber potatoes have also been hit by the weather. Very small quantities are, only now, trickling on to the market, courtesy of growers in very sheltered parts of North Down and the Ards Peninsula.

“Increasing tonnages will be dug over the coming weeks, particularly if the weather starts to pick up,” added Lewis Cunningham.

“Eating quality of the new season crops already dug is good, despite the poor growing conditions up to this point.”

Another potato-related victim of the poor Spring weather has been the now traditional Comber annual potato festival.

Originally scheduled for last weekend, it will now take place between July 1st and July 5th. The event is organised by Ards and North Down Borough Council, in partnership with Food NI and the Comber Earlies Co-operative.

“Due to the poor weather, we had no option but to put the event back this year,” confirmed Ivan McKee, a member of the festival’s organising committee.

“However, all our plans are in place to make the new July dates a total success. Our aim is to provide visitors with an opportunity to enjoy the tremendous eating experience encapsulated by new season Comber earlies.”

The festival begins on Thursday 2 July with the Comber Farmers market, a Cookery Masterclass from Radio Ulster’s resident chef Paula McIntyre and a Potato Festival pub quiz in North Down House. The festival Tractor Run and BBQ will then take place on Friday 3 July, starting at 7pm in Parkway, Comber.

Comber Earlies will be available for sampling at the Comber Potato Festival on Saturday 4 July from 10am to 5pm. The event draws to a close on Sunday 5 July with a Thanksgiving Service at 3.30pm.