The announcement of a €3 million scheme to support the seed-potato sector has been welcomed as a “positive first step” by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) national potato chair, Sean Ryan.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue made the announcement yesterday (Tuesday, May 24) following a meeting of cabinet.

The scheme, which will be funded through the Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund, is expected to accelerate development of capacity within the sector and aid improvements in the production, storage and marketing infrastructure of seed potatoes.

It will do this by providing grant assistance to producers towards the capital cost of specialised equipment and facilities.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue on the farm of Co. Donegal potato grower, Charlie Doherty on the banks of Lough Swilly

Brexit fallout

According to the IFA, prior to Brexit, Ireland had been importing approximately 6,000t of seed potatoes from the UK each year, with 60% of the certified seed that is planted in Ireland coming from Scotland.

As a result of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and following the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1, 2021, that import of seed potatoes is now prohibited.

The area of seed potato crops for certification in Ireland increased to 299ha in 2021. But this figure will need to double for domestic demand.

“We look forward to working with department officials to put measures in place to support the sector against Brexit and other challenges currently experienced by the sector,” Ryan said.

“The scheme must ensure priority access to current seed producers to help them to expand to reach domestic demand,” he said.

An IFA delegation is meeting with Minister McConalogue tomorrow to discuss the challenges for the potato sector.

“We will seek additional information on the new proposed scheme,” Ryan said.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) said it is finalising preparations to launch the scheme, which will be available for the period 2022-2023 and will conclude this work very shortly.