Spring weather boosts early crops

William Gilmore, of Newtownards-based Gilmore Farms, (left) discussing the prospects for this year's Comber First Early Potatoes with Wilson's Country chairman Angus Wilson

William Gilmore, of Newtownards-based Gilmore Farms, (left) discussing the prospects for this year's Comber First Early Potatoes with Wilson's Country chairman Angus Wilson

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The last few days of spring like conditions have helped boost the growth of this year’s first earlies, which should be in the shops by the end of May or beginning of June.

Early potato production remains an important enterprise for farmers in the Comber area of North Down.

“It’s all down to the weather now,” explained Wilson’s Country Chairman Angus Wilson.

“Growers can use plastic and fleece to protect new crops. But growers are still totally dependent on the weather over the coming weeks to allow crops to bulk up and to maximise their dry matter contents. It’s all about taste and freshness at time of harvest.

“What growers need is an early Spring in order to maximise the quality of the new season crop.”

Angus went on to point out that the market for first earlies remains a very traditional one with varieties such as British Queen and Home Guard remaining firm favourites with local consumers.

Comber early potatoes were granted protected geographical indication (PGI) status under European law three years ago. This officially recognises the regional importance and distinctive characteristics of the Comber spud and means that only new season potatoes harvested from the fields of Comber and the surrounding area can be marketed as new season Comber earlies.

“PGI accreditation has given both the growers and the market for new potatoes a tremendous boost,” the Wilson’s Country representative confirmed.

“The potatoes are prized for their distinctive earthy, nutty flavour and characteristic soft smooth skin. It is important for the industry to build on its PGI accreditation over the coming years.”

Angus made these comments while visiting the Newtownards farm of William Gilmore: “Consumers may not be aware of the time, work and effort that go into the growing and management of first early potato crops,” William confirmed.

“For example, all seed potatoes are chitted prior to planting. And where fleece or plastic is used, the additional costs involved are significant. Yes, it’s important to ensure that first earlies get to the shops as soon as possible, but the overriding objective is to guarantee consumers that unique taste experience that is synonymous with Comber earlies.”