Big is­sues com­ing home to roost for our potato grow­ers

Irish Independent - Farming - - OUR FARM - RICHARD HACK­ETT

IF YOU ever ven­ture over to Eastern Europe, you will find that when the good cit­i­zens are look­ing for a qual­ity starch food to go with their meat and veg­eta­bles, they don’t talk about the potato, but reach for the ‘Irish potato’.

This is an ex­am­ple of the strong re­la­tion­ship we as a na­tion have to this ba­sic of food­stuffs. You would think that with this strong re­la­tion­ship, at the very least, we would have a sup­ply chain of pota­toes that would be at least com­pre­hen­sive, if not vibrant and pro­gres­sive.

Alas this is far from the case. The potato in­dus­try in Ire­land is any­thing but vibrant, most of it isn’t even Irish.

Any re­view of the potato in­dus­try (and there has been no short­age of them) in­evitably blames the re­duc­tion in potato con­sump­tion on the rise of ‘pasta and rice’ and ‘hec­tic life­styles’. These con­clu­sions are usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by calls for more mar­ket­ing and fur­ther re­views.

While there is no doubt that there are many ex­ter­nal fac­tors work­ing against the con­sump­tion of pota­toes in Ire­land, there are plenty of in­ter­nal fac­tors work­ing against the sec­tor as well.

There is no doubt that when the his­tory of the potato crop in Ire­land is writ­ten, the im­pact that one va­ri­ety Rooster, bred in Oak­park by Harry Ke­hoe, had on the in­dus­try will be writ large.

As a va­ri­ety it has its weak­nesses, but it is a fan­tas­tic all-rounder, read­ily recog­nis­able and has a strong brand fol­low­ing.

But when the only ‘ta­ble potato’ on of­fer by ev­ery re­tail unit in the coun­try for the en­tire year is one va­ri­ety, we have a prob­lem. Agro­nom­i­cally, it’s a big prob­lem.

As well as the risk of one va­ri­ety break­ing down to a new pest or dis­ease, more prac­ti­cally, the va­ri­ety Rooster is very late ma­tur­ing. It’s a scary thought that as we ap­proach the mid­dle of Septem­ber, the en­tire crop re­quired to feed this coun­try from now un­til next July is still sit­ting out in fields, not even des­ic­cated in most in­stances.

If the weather con­tin­ues for an­other month as it has done for the last month, we have a big prob­lem with the crop — we won’t be able to get it all dug be­fore win­ter.

More im­por­tantly, we also have a prob­lem with only ‘of­fer­ing’ one va­ri­ety to the con­sumer — it equals bore­dom and sta­sis.

Con­sumers are con­stantly been ‘wowed’ and bom­barded with the lat­est su­per foods.

All the bet­ter if it comes from some far cor­ner of some far f lung rain­for­est.

What chance does the bag of spuds have against ex­otic food­stuffs?

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