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Vegetable growers hit hard as hot weather sees crop yield drop 20%

Warning: David Morrow
Warning: David Morrow
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

Vegetable producers across Northern Ireland, who have just endured one of the most difficult years in living memory, are suffering a drop of around 20% yield in their crops.

A prolonged cold and wet spring followed by the long summer drought have played havoc on the production of potatoes and carrots - the two most consumed vegetables in Northern Ireland.

Glens of Antrim Potatoes control around 1,000 acres for growing their Kerr Pinks, Roosters and Maris Pipers. But the long dry months of June, July and August have had a detrimental effect on all of these varieties.

Commercial manager David Morrow warned that while there has been some rain, it hasn't been in sufficient quantity - something that could spell disaster.

"From May until the end of July there was little or no rain which meant the potato seeds stopped growing altogether - they went into a kind of a hibernation," he said.

"When the rain did come, some potatoes such as Maris Pipers produced leaves and went into flower instead of the actual potato."

Other varieties started producing "daughters" which is what the seed potatoes are supposed to do. However, these daughters started to produce more daughters instead of becoming bigger potatoes.

Mr Morrow added: "The result of this is the potatoes in the shops will be a lot smaller than people are used to and they will also be misshapen. There won't be anything wrong with the taste of them but they will look different to what the shopper expects.

"The earth is actually still very dry, so dry in fact that when it does rain, the rain just runs off."

Angus Wilson from Wilson's Country has had a similar experience. He said: "Overall our production is down around 20% and the potatoes are misshapen but farmers are resilient and we will just get on with things.

"A summer like the one that has passed comes around once every 40 or so years so hopefully it will be another 40 years before we are faced with another year like 2018."

The humble carrot has also suffered and as a result, Gilfresh Produce's yield is not what could have been expected.

Martin Gilpin said: "Our carrot yield looks like it will be down around 20% overall.

"We would expect to yield around 25 tonne an acre, but while it is too early to know exactly what the final yield will be, the early crop is down 20%.

"It has been a difficult year, we were delayed in planting because there had been too much rain but when we did get sowing the dry spell came and lasted a very long time.

"This year has forced us to consider investing in irrigation equipment for next year if this is going to be the norm which will add to our costs."

While vegetable producers have had their struggles, their counterparts in the fruit fields of Armagh have seen increased crop yields thanks to sunshine.

Hamilton Logan, chairman of the Northern Ireland Fruit Growers Association, said: "Our biggest concern is frost at blossom time and thankfully we didn't have any frost this year.

"The real dry spell did hold the growing back on the fruit trees because obviously there wasn't enough moisture and the trees actually started to push apples off because they couldn't cope with them."

However, things then improved.

He added: "Any grower I have been talking to said the yield looks to be up on last year which in itself was a very good year.

"Our growers are just getting ready for harvest time, which starts in a couple of weeks time, but are now gathering up the fruit that was cast off in July which will be used for juice so nothing will be wasted."

Belfast Telegraph