Belfast Telegraph

Irish spud could be off Christmas menu if weather doesn’t improve

By Linda Stewart

Importing spuds to Ireland may seem like ferrying coals to Newcastle or ice cream to Italy — but it could happen this winter.

And those fluffy roasties we love with our Christmas dinner may not be homegrown Irish spuds, but could have been brought in from the Netherlands or France this festive season.

Potato processors are warning that we face a major shortage of potatoes this winter if the weather doesn’t pick up before the end of October.

Scotland is already experiencing a potato shortage, while the price of a 2.5kg bag of potatoes in the Republic has rocketed to €5, according to Wilson’s Country managing director Lewis Cunningham.

And he warns that without a spell of mild, dry weather to get the crop harvested, potatoes could be like gold after Christmas — “hard to get and expensive”.

The only plus side is that this season’s potatoes are of particularly good quality — floury, fluffy and with high levels of dry matter.

Mr Cunningham said the industry has been hit with a “once in a generation scenario” with a series of problems caused by the long run of bad weather, culminating with farmers being unable to harvest what’s left of the crop due to torrential downpour after torrential downpour.

By now almost the entire crop should have been lifted, but farmers have only managed about 50% as they need a period of four or five good days for the soil to dry out.

“Overall the yield is down about 50%. Everybody is very, very concerned,” Mr Cunningham said.

“If we got two weeks of decent weather, the problem could be a lot less.

“At the moment the water table is permanently high. It takes 4-5 days to dry up before you can do anything. If you get a heavy shower the water table comes back up straight away.”

In previous years there have been bad potato harvests, but it’s rare that the entire British Isles has been hit all at once.

“If you go into some of the British supermarkets at the moment, it’s all French potatoes,” Mr Cunningham said.

The worse case scenario, he says, is that potatoes will be in short supply and the price could rise by about 50%.

“We could end up importing potatoes into Ireland which is quite a bizarre situation. Some of that has already started,” he said.

“There are Dutch potatoes already coming into Ireland to supply the chip shops.

“The price could rise — in fact it’s already started to rise.

“If we ended up with a mild dry November and a bit of wind to dry out the soil, we could all be in a much better position.”

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