Correct me if I’m wrong, but did agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue not meet or speak to potato sector representatives a year ago to tell them that UK seed could no longer be imported into Ireland?
I’m also pretty sure that the Donegal man told the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and other stakeholder representatives that the Irish potato sector needed to be resurrected.
And, moreover, the government would act to greatly facilitate this endeavour.
So imagine my surprise when I opened a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) press release on Thursday (January 20) of this week to find that the minister had, again, met with potato industry representatives – this time to discuss seed availability for 2022.
Meeting with Irish potato industry
The post-meeting commentary again confirmed that the Irish government still stands ready to support Irish seed potato production.
And here comes the sting in the tail… but only on the basis of the industry showing a willingness to make it happen.
The ‘over to you’ perspective from the minister may well reflect a degree of frustration on his part, where these matters are concerned.
After all, the potato industry had the 2022 growing season to make some inroads into the seed potato deficit.
So the question, very quickly, becomes – how much work and investment was committed by the potato sector to meet its seed requirement from home saved sources last year? Answers on a post card please.
The Irish potato industry is primarily focused on serving the home market. That I am aware of, potato exports are no longer a key driver for the sector.
This being the case, one might have thought that the logistics of establishing a local seed sector, commensurate with this need, would not be an insurmountable challenge.
But I am also very aware of the fact that complications do arise when it comes to discussing the issue of seed potato availability in a post-Brexit world.
The most obvious one is the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol and the continuing demands of growers north of the border to be allowed access seed potatoes from Great Britain.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that a compromise on this matter in Brussels could soon see UK seed potatoes finding their way south of the border.
But politics is supposed to be the art of the possible. And who knows what fix, or fixes, a combination of London, Brussels and Dublin can come up with over the coming weeks?
For the record, the Irish Potato Federation will host the 11th World Potato Congress later this year. This will be an all island event in the truest sense of the term.
It strikes me that the politicians of the EU and the UK could take a similar perspective when it comes to sorting out the phytosanitary issues that currently confront Ireland’s potato industry.