Early season potatoes in Northern Ireland have enjoyed almost uninterrupted growth since planting back in the spring.

“That’s a pretty unusual scenario for growers, given the vagaries of the weather in this part of the world,” confirmed Hugh Chambers

“But more importantly, from a consumer point of view, it means that the eating quality of this year’s Comber Earlies will be excellent.”

Hugh is a specialist potato and cereal grower, farming right down to the shoreline at the north end of Strangford Lough. He has just started lifting the first of this year’s early crops.

Early season potatoes

Dunluce is the first early variety most commonly grown in Northern Ireland.

Wilson’s Country agronomist, Stuart Meredith joined Hugh, just as the harvesting work got underway.

“The recent warm weather, which was preceded by heavy rain, has encouraged tremendous growth within all potato crops,” Stuart explained.

“As a result, growers are digging earlies this year at around the same time as would have been the case in 2021.”

According to Hugh, first early crops are yielding an average of 4t/ac. He also grows Home Guard potatoes, which will be available later in the season.

The north Down man grows early and main crop potatoes as part of the overall tillage rotation followed on the farm.

Potato consumption

According to Stuart Meredith, potato consumption has continued to hold up on the back of the home cooking experiences enjoyed by so by many thousands of people during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

It is also anticipated that the recent spell of decent weather may well give a further boost to the traditional demand for new season potatoes over the coming weeks. These are heady times for the local potato industry.

Dublin recently hosted the World Potato Congress (WPC), the first time this important event has ever been held in Ireland.

Traditionally, the get-together has been used to promote the benefits of the potato to a global audience. However, it received added impetus this year given the attendance of numerous farming, food industry and political leaders from around the world.

The event saw attending delegates unanimously agreeing the ‘Declaration of Dublin’. This seeks the United Nations to endorse the principle of an ‘Annual World Potato Day’.

If accepted this would formally recognise the health attributes associated with the consumption of potatoes.

The congress culminated with delegates from 60 countries around the world visiting a number of Irish potato farms and processing businesses.