The market for fresh potatoes in Ireland is in decline and potato farmers are being warned that planting Roosters year in, year out won’t cut it.

As the first potatoes go into the ground in Wexford, Teagasc tillage advisor Shay Phelan, says that consumers want ready meals and more versatile food offerings.

“As a consequence, potato growers must become more flexible in terms of the produce they are bringing to market. Simply planting Rooster year-in, year-out is not the answer.”

Phelan confirmed that producer prices are currently well down year-on-year.

“Washed potatoes for the fresh trade are returning a farmgate price of €140/t while produce destined for the catering sector is delivering a producer price of €50/t. Potatoes for stock feed are making around €40/t.

“At this level of return all growers are losing money.”

He also said that, weather permitting, growers in the Lusk area will start planting this week with producers closer into Dublin hoping to have crop in the ground within the fortnight.

“Home Guard and Queens remain the leading early potato varieties grown in this country.

“Soil temperatures are now at around 6°C, which is the threshold figure used by growers when it comes to assessing the conditions for planting. All early crops will be grown under fleece. But, in addition, farmers will be hoping for a rise in temperature over the coming weeks,” he said.

“Further cold snaps will damage newly-planted potatoes, all of which are chitted prior to them going into the drills.”

Phelan pointed out that this year’s first early potatoes should be in the shops for the June bank holiday weekend.

“One of the key problems facing the potato sector at the present time is the fact that there is a large overhang of maincrop spuds from last year,” he said.

“Approximately 5% of last year’s crop is still in the ground. However, at this stage most of these potatoes will be ploughed back in. But we could still see samples of last year’s Rooster coming on to the market in six or seven months’ time.”

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