If nothing is done to promote potatoes, annual consumption levels in Ireland will fall to below 100,000 tonnes over the next ten years, according to Bord Bía Horticulture specialist Lorcan Bourke.

He made this prediction while speaking at the CAFRE Potato Conference, held at Greenmount Agricultural College this week.

“Current consumption levels in the Republic of Ireland are in the region of 175,000 tonnes per annum. But the sector is facing severe carbohydrate competition from the likes of rice and pasta.

“Recent research has confirmed that, while potatoes still hold a special place within the Irish psyche, an age gap is developing in terms of those cooking spuds on a regular basis. The reality is that younger people do not regard potatoes as being sexy enough. And, what’s more. they are not seen as being versatile enough when it comes to the preparation of meals.

“There are also a number of common misconceptions regarding the role of potatoes as part of a healthy diet. One is the belief that spuds are fattening when in reality they do not contain any fat whatsoever,” he commented.

“Further declines in potato consumption levels will have a major structural impact on the potato sector at both grower and packer level.”

But the good news for the potato sector is the anticipated Brussels’ backing for a €4.5 million generic potato promotion campaign, which will be centred on a partnership agreement between Bord Bía and the British Potato Council.

“The initiative will be funded by Europe to the tune of 50%,” Bourke continued.

“The project will run for three years and is planned to kick in next autumn. A budget of €1 million will be available in the Republic of Ireland. Half of this will come from Europe with the remainder collected by way of an industry levy plus a contribution from the Department of Agriculture.

“The last five years have been spent securing agreement for the establishment of a producer levy. This is a landmark development in its own right.

“The European Commission received the joint application for promotional monies a number of weeks ago. We are anticipating a response from Brussels in the early New Year.