Potato growers get less than a fifth of the retail price that a consumer pays for their produce, the National Potato Conference heard this morning.

Speaking at the conference in Dublin, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Joe Healy outlined how retailers are taking the lion’s share of the margin on potatoes, while farmers bear all of the risk.

Organised by the IFA in association with Bord Bia and Teagasc, the conference heard that pre-pack potatoes are retailing at up to €1,400/t; while growers receive less than 20% of that.

L-R: Thomas McKeown, IFA Potato chairman; Aoife Hearne, dietitian; Lorcan Bourke, Bord Bia’s Horticulture Division; Joe Healy, IFA president; and Prof. Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc. Image source: Finbarr O’Rourke

Healy said: “Many potato growers are having to sell their crop for less than it costs to produce. That situation cannot be sustained; the price the farmer gets has to rise just to cover storage costs alone.

Retailers and packers have to wake up to that and act now if they want to have a potato industry in the future.

Stronger retail regulation and an independent retail ombudsman are needed to ensure farmers get a fairer share of the retail price, and to support a sustainable food supply chain, the IFA president warned.

He also said he believes it is imperative that the recommendations of the Agricultural Markets Task Force are implemented.

“Growers make an investment of €60 million each year to grow Ireland’s 22,000ac of potato and ensure a top quality product is consistently available to packers, supermarkets and the food service sector.

“In return, processors and retailers who rely on their product must return to them a fair price and stop undermining the market with surplus imports,” Healy said.

Potato sales reach highest level in 10 years

Citing figures from the Kantar Worldpanel, the IFA indicated that potatoes feature in one in every 10 shopping trips, with these trips contributing 23% of all retail sales.

The research appeared to show that the joint Irish and UK Potato Promotion Campaign – running since 2015 to tackle a fall in potato consumption – has been a success, the IFA added.

These figures also show that potato sales are at their highest level in the last 10 years, with €195 million worth of potatoes sold last year – and a 20% increase in potato sales volume since 2013.

The research shows potatoes are bought every second in Irish retailers – 208,000t of potatoes were sold in 2017 and 1.67 million households purchase potatoes annually.

Promotional campaign

Meanwhile, also speaking at today’s conference was Bord Bia’s fresh produce and potato sector manager Lorcan Bourke.

He explained that a €1 million EU-funded promotional campaign, managed by Bord Bia, had significantly helped to promote the sector in recent years.

We are aware that more potatoes have been sold as a direct result of the ‘Potatoes, More than a Bit on the Side’ campaign.

“Since 2014/2015, there has been a significant increase in the volume of potatoes bought by households, following a full decade of declining consumption,” he said.

2018 marks the third and final year of the campaign; but, consideration is being given to a follow-on campaign, given the positive consumer response to date.

Dietitian Aoife Hearne will also emphasise the importance of potatoes in the daily diet during the conference.