The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue has said that growing the Irish seed potato sector must be led by the industry.

As a result of Brexit, the importation of seed potato from Britain is banned under EU plant health regulations.

The UK has applied for the export of certified seed potatoes under Article 44 of the regulations. However, the EU has refused on the basis that the UK’s plant health standards are not ‘dynamically aligned’ to EU legislation.

Senator Victor Boyhan told the minister that he has received a substantial amount of correspondence from Irish potato growers on the matter.

“Minister, you and I know that the potato industry is potentially in crisis and if we don’t resolve the issue around seed potato we are going to have problems,” the independent senator said.

Seed potato

The Seanad heard that around 20,000t of seed potato is required annually in Ireland, this is derived from homegrown certified seed; farm saved seed; and imports.

“Today, the main concern for potato growers is seed potatoes for 2022. Farmers want certainty and they want it now. This is the time that they are planning in terms of sowing.

“We need a bigger strategy over the next number of years to develop our own seed potential and our own industry,” Boyhan stated.

In response, Minister McConalogue said that is he a “very strong proponent” for seed potatoes.

“It’s a sector with great potential. I’m committed to seeing it growing again and to be restored to its heyday. This must be led by the industry with support from my department,” he said.

He explained that the EU Commission had maintained its position on banning the UK imports despite numerous engagements with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

However, McConalogue believed that this decision provides “a real opportunity for the revival of domestic potato seed production”.

He noted that there was increased interest from major contractors in placing orders for seed with Irish growers in the wake of Brexit.

DAFM is currently examining a capital investment scheme for seed potatoes to help develop domestic production.

The minister stated that the expansion of the Irish sector will be boosted in the coming years with the availability of rooster seed.

McConalogue also pointed to department supports for mini-tuber production in the Tops Potatoes Centre in Raphoe Co. Donegal, the seed certification scheme and Teagasc potato breeding research.