Agriculture minister, Charlie McConalogue, believes that the country’s seed potato sector can grow significantly in the wake of Brexit.

This was a core issue that he referenced repeatedly, during his opening address to this week’s Word Potato Congress (WPC) in Dublin.

The minister specifically highlighted the fact that Ireland is now the only country in the European Union (EU) that enjoys the highest accredited plant health status, where seed potatoes are concerned.

“This is a tremendous base upon which to grow the future of the sector,” he stressed.

McConalogue also highlighted the work of the Tops Potato Propagation Centre at Raphoe in Donegal.

The main function of the centre is to produce pre-basic mini-tuber seed for participants in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) Seed Potato Certification Scheme.

To do this the station maintains nucleus stocks of healthy and genetically true-to-type samples of the potato varieties likely to be required for seed and eventually ware potato production.

The centre maintains most of the potato varieties grown in Ireland.

Seed potato support

The minister also referred to the strategic potato variety development work carried out by Teagasc.

“Irish food exports are worth €13 billion to the overall economy on an annual basis,” he stated.

“The sector is totally committed to the attainment of excellence on an ongoing basis.

“The Irish potato industry is a vitally important part of this ongoing success story.”

Last week, the minister announced his intention to launch a €3 million scheme of investment aid for the seed potato sector.

The measure will accelerate development of capacity within the sector and aid improvements in the production, storage and marketing infrastructure of seed potatoes by providing grant assistance to producers towards the capital cost of specialised equipment and facilities.

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.

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

40 years ago, the island of Ireland was home to one of Europe’s most vibrant seed potato sectors with produce exported to countries around Europe and north Africa.

Minister McConalogue is making no secret of the fact that he wants to see the Irish potato seed sector returning to its former glory.

And he views Brexit as the lever that can be used to make all of this happen.