POTATO consumption is set to plummet by 40pc over the next decade because consumers believe they're fattening, old-fashioned and a hassle to cook.
Urgent action is needed to halt the decline of the humble spud as households switch to other carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, couscous and rice, Bord Bia has warned.
If present trends continue, consumption in Ireland will drop from 162,000 tonnes a year at present to less than 100,000 tonnes by 2023, said Bord Bia analyst Lorcan Bourke.
The potato remains Ireland's number one carb and sales are still far ahead of alternatives such as pasta and rice, but it has been in a state of decline in recent years that will continue if nothing is done, he told the Irish Farmers' Association National Potato Conference.
"That's a crisis that will affect the livelihoods of growers and packers, it's quite sobering," he said.
Bord Bia is proposing a €1m campaign over the next three years to turn around the fortunes of the potato if it can secure EU funding for half that amount, with the rest to come from growers and Government.
This would stress the scientifically verifiable health benefits of potatoes as a natural, unprocessed low-fat food that is high in potassium and Vitamin C, as well as pushing exciting and convenient recipe ideas that put potatoes back into consumers' range of everyday dinners.
He pointed to the success of such marketing campaigns for both porridge and eggs which have been reinvented as healthy modern foods in consumer minds after years in the doldrums.
However, the IFA warned that potato production is under threat because farmers are getting too little for their crop.
Growers today are getting just 26pc of the consumer price, down from 36pc a few years ago, and the current price is now less than the €200 per tonne it cost to produce them.
IFA potato chairman Eddie Doyle criticised "self-appointed dietary experts" for claiming potatoes were bad for people.
Junior Agriculture Minister Tom Hayes pledged his support for the campaign.