Prospects for potato harvest are on a knife edge

The potato industry is 'praying' for a spell of good weather
The potato industry is 'praying' for a spell of good weather

With more than half of this year’s crop still in the ground, Northern Ireland’s potato industry is ‘praying’ for a break in the weather to save it from one of the most disastrous harvests in living memory, writes Richard Halleron.

“Normally by the end of October, the entire harvest would be nearing completion,” confirmed Wilson’s Country managing director Lewis Cunningham.

“Growers have been using every opportunity, and no little ingenuity, to get potatoes lifted over recent weeks.

“But it has been a pretty thankless task. Ground conditions are extremely challenging. And this is particularly the case the further north to Co Antrim and east one travels into Co Down.

“Some growers in Co Antrim have not had the opportunity to start harvesting at all yet, so difficult are the conditions in that part of the world.”

According to Cunningham, most parts of Northern Ireland have experienced twice the levels of rainfall that would normally be expected in the period since June

“This has made ground conditions almost impossible from the point of view of harvesting,” he continued.

“The Republic of Ireland is no different with a significant amount of the crop to be lifted.”

Getting this year’s crop harvested is one issue: the quality of the potatoes coming out of the ground is another challenge for the industry.

“Bruising has been a major problem this year,” said Cunningham.

“This has been caused by harvesting conditions and the fact that the potatoes are coming out of the ground with so much soil

“Currently, an extra 10% of new season crop is being discarded as it goes through the pack house due to bruising-related problems.”

He added: “Potatoes are an extremely expensive crop to grow. The industry is currently on a knife edge. Growers need several weeks’ dry weather to get this year’s harvest completed. And that’s a big ask at this time of the year.

“Day length is shortening and heavy morning mists further reduce daily harvesting times.”

Cunningham said that it will take a number of weeks to work through the consumer implications of this year’s challenging potato harvest.

“The number one priority is to get as much of this year’s crop out of the ground. Only then can we really assess the implications for potato supplies in the shops over the coming months.”