Opinion

Is a ‘perfect storm’ brewing for Irish potato growers?

If ever Bord Bia needed to come up with an effective marketing campaign for the potato industry, this could well be the year.

From what I am hearing, Irish yields are poor enough in places and quality is very questionable, given the snatch-and-grab nature of the harvest.

Problems seem to be more acute for growers the further north one travels with some producers in Co. Louth projecting a ‘spring dig’ if ground conditions do not improve significantly over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, growers in Britain have just put in-store a record potato crop with tuber quality by all accounts excellent.

The worst of all scenarios for Irish growers is a bad harvest in this part of the world and for our friends across the sheugh to be wallowing in an ocean of potatoes. And so it has turned out to be in 2017.

The resulting downward pressure on prices will, almost certainly, put Irish growers to the pins of their collars when it comes to generating any form of positive crop margin this year.

Given these circumstances there is a strong case to be made for Bord Bia to put a serious push behind Iocally-grown potatoes over the coming months. There is also a requirement for Irish supermarkets to do their bit in promoting home-grown spuds.

But the potato sector needs more than a few marketing gestures to get it out of the slump that has so characterised the industry for the past number of years.

Consumption rates have fallen off a cliff in the wake of successive media campaigns highlighting the ‘so-called’ poor nutritional value of the humble potato. Last time I checked, potatoes are not included in the ‘5-a-day’, healthy eating push behind a wide range of vegetables and fruits.

Yet when analysed ‘with its skin on’ it turns out that the potato contains more minerals and vitamins than many other vegetables.

In my opinion, the potato is a wonder of nature. Prior to the Famine, Irish people were amongst the healthiest in Europe. And guess what helped bring all that about.

The potato is also one of the most natural foods that we can eat. Recent years have seen the fortunes of butter turned on their head, from both a nutritional and demand point of view. As we all know, the worth of the Irish dairy industry has risen dramatically on this back of this single, international phenomenon.

I think it’s time for potatoes to receive the same treatment. And Bord Bia should not be shy in helping to make this happen.

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