This week has seen potato growers along Ireland’s east coast getting on with the planting of first early crops.

As always seems to be the case, growers in Co. Wexford have an advantage over their counterparts in the rest of the country when it comes to getting seed into the ground first.

“Growers in the south east will normally have a fortnight’s advantage compared to growers in places like Co. Louth,” confirmed Wilson’s Country agronomist Stuart Meredith.

“Crops planted out this week should be ready for harvest come the end of June, but this is very much weather dependent.

First earlies sown out last year experienced drought-like conditions for weeks after planting. As a result, it was well into July before crops started to really bulk up.

Meredith made the comments while visiting Screen Potatoes near Blackwater in Co. Wexford, where crops of Maris Piper have been planted out over the past few days.

Planned rotation

“The seed was chitted from Christmas to allow it to gain an extra seven days before it hit the ground,” Meredith continued.

Growing potatoes as part of a well-planned rotation is critically important. The potatoes planted this week followed crops of winter wheat.

According to the agronomist, ground conditions remain challenging away from coastal areas.

“We have had a very wet winter so it will take those extra few days for farmers on heavier soils to get out into the fields with machinery,” Meredith added.

Wilson’s Country is Ireland’s largest potato packer with a network of growers north and south.

“Potatoes are very expensive crops to grow,” Stuart Meredith further explained.

“So getting all aspects of the agronomy correct is critically important when it comes to determining both final yields and the quality of the crops grown.”

Lockdown has brought about a resurgence in home cooking with Ireland’s potato industry benefitting accordingly.

“In many ways, Irish consumers are rediscovering potatoes again. The reality is that spuds come in many varieties and can be put to a host of uses in the kitchen,” Meredith explained.

But modern cooking is as much about convenience as it is to do with taste.  Potato packers continue to respond to these signals.

“Developing ways to reduce cooking times, expanding the range of dishes that potatoes can be used in and cutting down waste levels are all priorities for the industry at the present time,” he concluded.