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Comber Earlies set to hit stores after bad weather delay

By Linda Stewart

Comber Earlies potatoes are late this year after unusually cold and wet weather delayed the start of the planting period.

The new potatoes are finally arriving in shops this weekend, helped by a bout of warm weather that speeded up the growing process.

Angus Wilson, from Craigavon-based Wilson's Country, said farmers were hampered by the terrible winter when planting spuds earlier this year.

"Combers are normally planted in February, but the incessant rain and cold made for very low soil temperatures and delayed planting until St Patrick's Day," he explained.

"While the potatoes are usually harvested during the first week in June, we've been delayed this year.

"Poor weather, especially frost, has had an impact on growing conditions, but we have worked very closely with our potato farmers to ensure there is a steady supply of Combers this summer so people can enjoy that first taste of summer as soon as possible."

Tesco has announced that Comber Earlies will be available in its stores from Saturday.

The variety is normally harvested between the last week of May and the end of July.

They are a popular staple in Northern Ireland, and their name and status is even legally safeguarded at European level under the Protected Geographical Indication scheme - in the same way as Lough Neagh Eels and Armagh Bramley Apples are.

Comber Earlies can only be grown in an area that stretches from the town of Comber to the Ards Peninsula and close to Crossgar, Killyleagh, Saintfield and Carryduff in Co Down.

Potato grower Hugh Chambers, who supplies Tesco through Wilson Country from his farm on Reagh Island on the shores of Strangford Lough, said the recent warm weather had sped up the growing process.

"The potato is a sunny crop and the sunshine and heat during the month of May has really helped make up for the bad weather and allowed us get ready for harvesting for mid-June," he explained.

Caoimhe Mannion, of Tesco, added: "The fabulous flavour of Comber Earlies is a favourite across the whole of Northern Ireland and beyond, and we are delighted to be first to market with them this year."

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