It’s time to talk potatoes

Belarus holds the current world record as the country with the largest per capita consumption of potatoes.

Consumers there get through an average of 180kg of ‘spuds’ per head of population per year.

Also, for the record, potatoes are the world’s fourth most important food crop. Approximately 400 million tonnes of the crop are grown every year with China alone accounting for one quarter of this output.

These were just some of the facts that came to the fore courtesy of a potato discussion forum recently hosted for members of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists.

Taking part were Liam Glennon, the man behind Ireland’s hosting of the World Potato Forum in 2021; Tom Keogh, the driving force behind the north Dublin-based Keogh’s Crisps operation; and Maria Flynn, who produces a number of bespoke food offerings for Ireland’s top-end hotel and catering trade under the ‘Perfect Potato’ banner.

All three gave their perspectives on an industry which has had to fight back from a sustained period of consumption decline.

“This is particularly the case where fresh potatoes are concerned,” said Keogh.

“Consumption fell by almost 50% between 2002 and 2012. This was the driving force behind the development of the crisps operation.

Overall, consumption of potatoes has levelled off over the past five years. But the real driver here has been the development of new processed and convenience offerings.

Flynn said that she had no experience of the potato sector prior to marrying her husband David. They farm together at Ballymakenny, near Termonfekin in Co. Louth.

“What astounded me was the fact that farmers had no control over the prices they received for crops which cost so much money to produce,” she said.

“In our own case, we decided to look at developing ways of bringing something new to the market, where potatoes are concerned.

“As part of this initiative we have sought to grow varieties that are not mainstream. But it has been very hard work.

“We have developed a very good relationship with a selection of Ireland’s top chefs and hoteliers. But producing potatoes to the standards they demand is still extremely exacting.”

She noted that, in many ways, the family had to go back to basics in producing potatoes that are made available for a specific period of the year only.

“We have diversified the business by growing speciality vegetables, using the same marketing approach.”

Significantly, Flynn does not want any of her children to follow her into the business.

This is because it really is hard work. The germ of the idea for the new business came out of David’s absolute passion for growing potatoes to the highest possible standard.

Glennon confirmed that Ireland will host the World Potato Forum for the first time in 2021.

“Our aim is to make the event a strong business forum for those involved in the potato sector internationally,” he said.