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Big freeze blights potato supplies to crisp company

A third of local crops destined to become crisps were destroyed by the Big Freeze.

Crisp company Tayto said it sources two thirds of its potatoes from Northern Ireland and would ideally like all its potatoes to be locally produced.

But it will now be forced to search further afield due to the serious crop losses seen at the start of the year.

Many farmers who currently supply the company may be forced to pull out of growing potatoes because of the losses they suffered during the prolonged cold snap, the company warned.

The news came as Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew ordered officials to assess the scale of damage to potato and vegetable crops.

The minister secured Executive agreement to consider hardship funding for growers hit by the coldest December in nearly 30 years.

Paul Allen, chief executive of Tayto Group, said 22,000 tonnes of potatoes are used at the Tandragee plant every year and it is keen to continue to support local farmers during what has been a difficult season.

“Tayto’s local suppliers provide us with around two thirds of those potatoes. We source the balance from farmers outside of Northern Ireland.

“Ideally, we’d like that tonnage also to come from within Northern Ireland and would invite potential growers to contact us,” he said.

“Our local suppliers have lost a third of our contracted crops due to the adverse weather conditions.”

Mr Allen said the company has met with several of its growers to reaffirm its ongoing commitment to them.

“However, their losses this year may make it impossible for them to grow potatoes in the future,” he warned.

“In the short term, this shortfall in supply will be made up with potatoes sourced from other parts of the UK and we will absorb this additional cost. Tayto is the ‘taste of home’ and we remain committed to our Northern Ireland growers during this very difficult time.”

Lagan Valley Assembly member Jonathan Craig appealed to the minister to find some way to assist growers hit by crop losses.

“We have yet another area of agriculture which due to conditions well out of control of the farmers is going into decline,” he said.

“We have a local, very successful company that deliberately uses local produce and they are now facing further economic difficulties because of this, leading to a high cost of production at a time of economic downturn.”

The minister has stressed that no financial support measures are currently available for farmers hit by the severe weather, but has launched an assessment of losses incurred by potato and vegetable growers. Forms for growers to fill in outlining their losses were made available yesterday.

Ms Gildernew said the damage assessment exercise will inform any future financial support consideration, subject to availability of funding.

In accordance with EU State Aid Rules, any aid will be confined to actual losses, will be conditional on more than 30% of the crop being destroyed and will be subject to limitations on the level of aid.

“Following a preliminary assessment of the crop losses caused by the very severe frost, I have instructed my officials to proceed with an exercise to establish the extent of crop damage, including subsequent financial loss, suffered by individual potato and vegetable growers as a result of the severe frost,” Ms Gildernew said.

“Growers who wish to be considered for any financial assistance that may become available will be required to complete a ‘Crop Damage Assessment Form’. The objective of the analysis is to establish not only the losses but also the impact of such losses on the grower's overall enterprise. Eligible growers will be required to demonstrate that the potatoes and vegetables were damaged by frost and the extent of that damage.”

Deadline for receipt of the assessment forms by DARD is March 9.

Belfast Telegraph