Calls for support for local potato growers

A Co Down farmer is claiming that an entire cohort of growers has not been recognised by the Covid support schemes put in place for the potato sector.

Sunday, 14th March 2021, 9:37 am

Paul Moore grows 30 acres of potatoes each year along with his father Harold. The family farm is located between Lisburn and Ballynahinch.

Paul explained: “We grow potatoes exclusively for the catering sector. And this fact dictates every aspect of our business, from the varieties we select to the agronomy and management associated with the growing of the crops.

“For example, we space the seed that little bit further apart in the drills and delay harvesting that little longer than would be the case with those growers producing potatoes for the pre-pack market.

“As a result, the tubers that we produce are significantly larger in size, making them suitable for peeling only.

He added: “Demand for our produce peaks between the months of December and March. As a consequence, we only have ambient storage facilities on the farm.

“Demand for potatoes within the service sector crashed in the run up to Christmas and has not recovered since. As a result, I am left with a 280t stockpile of spuds on the farm.

“They must be sold before the end of the month, otherwise quality will start to deteriorate significantly. I cannot find a customer for my produce and this state of affairs is unlikely to change over the coming weeks.”

Paul is aware of at least three other growers in his locality, adding: “I am also hearing of many growers in North Antrim, who have been left in similar circumstances.”

Paul pointed out selling for stock feed or supplying to an AD operation are now the only market options available to him.

“In either case, the price available to me works out at £20/t. This represents a loss of £80/t, which I can’t afford to take,” he said.

“I did cut back on the acreage of potatoes grown last year. But none of the growers who traditionally supply the service sector foresaw the complete closure of the catering sector that has been the reality for the past number of months.

Paul concluded: “Local potato growers did not cause the Covid-19 pandemic. So it is vitally important that the Covid support promised to the potato industry should fully support growers who supply the catering industry only.

“The reality is that these farmers have no other market outlet for their produce.”