Potato industry crying out for a dry October

Wilson's Country managing director Lewis Cunningham (left) and company agronomist Stuart Meredith examining a water-logged crop of Piper seed potatoes near Moira earlier this week
Wilson's Country managing director Lewis Cunningham (left) and company agronomist Stuart Meredith examining a water-logged crop of Piper seed potatoes near Moira earlier this week

Ground conditions in most potato fields are akin to what one might expect at the beginning of December – not the beginning of October, according to Wilson’s Country managing director Lewis Cunningham, writes Richard Halleron.

“It’s been a stop:start harvest up to this point,” he added.

“The recent rain and the promise of more to come with the threat of Hurricane Lorenzo is making life very difficult for growers at the present time. We need a dry October across Europe, otherwise the 2019 potato harvest could quickly become a major challenge.”

Adding to Lewis’s concerns is the fact that some main-crop potato fields were sown out late this year.

“There then followed a very cold June, which hampered growth significantly,” he further explained.

Lewis pointed out that the vagaries of Northern Ireland’s weather continues to be the main challenge faced by growers year-in, year-out.

“Perversely, we are seeing some early crops of the variety Maris Piper coming out of the ground with skin defects. This is a condition that we would only expect to see developing in the wake of a very dry growing season.

“But this was hardly the case in 2019. The likelihood is that the overall potato yields could be well down in Northern Ireland, year-on-year as wet or flooded areas may not be lifted. Meanwhile, the unfavourable weather conditions will have done little to improve crop quality.”

Lewis confirmed that it will take until at least the end of October before the market prospects for the potato sector can be accurately assessed.

He further commented: “We are now operating within a European market. It will take at least another month before the size of this year’s harvest can be fully gauged. Brexit is another issue that we will have to factor in over the coming weeks.”

But it is certainly not all bad news for the potato sector.

The size of the industry in Northern Ireland is valued at around £46m in retail terms. The sector has around 96% market penetration with consumers. In addition, volume sales are starting to show signs of increasing after many years of being in the doldrums.

Lewis Cunningham again: “The food retail sector is on the rise and the potato industry is benefitting accordingly especially with the rise in interest in vegan food.

“Our analysis indicates that consumers are continuing to buy smaller potato pack sizes. It is also very interesting to note that sales of other carbohydrate sources, including rice and pasta have remained static over the past year. The local potato industry can claim a much lower carbon foot print than its carbohydrate competitors.”

Lewis also indicated that demand for part prepared potatoes, peeled, chips and mash etc had grown significantly over the past 12 months.

He concluded: “This is a very helpful platform from which to build a campaign to promote the nutritional value of potatoes.”

For further information, telephone Wilson’s Country on (028) 3839 1029.