Meet the man putting the potatoes into Tayto
Ivan Curran talks about his farm's links with the crisp giant over five decades
The next time you are munching on a much-loved packet of Tayto crisps, spare a thought for the farmers who make the experience all possible.
One such grower is Ivan Curran, who runs a 700-acre potato operation with his wife Frances at Broadleas Farm, Stamullen, Co Meath. Ivan and his eight full-time staff begin planting each year on St Patrick's Day and usually finish at the start of May.
He says the weather made this year's planting more difficult and that it turned into a "long campaign".
"This year started off as an early season but it was a messy season. It was very stop-start because of the weather. Last year was a late start, but when we did start, we were finished on time.
"Every day was a working day last year, versus this year which involved working for three days and stopping for a few days because of the weather."
Ploughing, rotavating, tilling and destoning the ground are just some of the preparatory steps Ivan takes prior to planting his 700 acres of potatoes each year. This is then followed by fertiliser spraying and blight management.
"We weed spray them before they come through the ground. We spray weekly for blight. We change our chemicals to mix it up as well.
"With the earlier varieties of spuds we have, you'd be digging at the end of July."
While Ivan grows Roosters, which are one of the most popular potato types amongst consumers in Ireland, it's the lesser-known varieties such as Lady Rosetta and Lady Claire that he is obliged to plant to make the perfect spud enjoyed by Tayto lovers.
"Varieties are very specific. Tayto know what they want. They want no sugars, a nice white crisp (potato), healthy. They have to be between a certain size to fit in the bag and blemish free with no bruising and no damage."
Ivan says his favourite spud to eat has to be the Golden Wonder, but he understands why Roosters are so popular in Irish households.
"Roosters are recognisable and red. They are a nice all-around spud. There is a lot of reliance on Roosters, but that is what the people want. They want a visibly nice potato."
After harvesting, Ivan and the team grade and store the potatoes for Tayto on the farm's 9,000-tonne cold-storage facility.
He says different varieties have to be kept at different temperatures in order to keep the sugars out of the potato so they won't be black when fried.
While the price for potatoes last year was reasonably high due to the scarcity of the crop as a result of the drought, Ivan says he is grateful to have a contract with the crisps giant, as otherwise he wouldn't see a future for him in growing. "It's not steady. You didn't have many complaining last year because the price of potatoes was up and crops weren't good. We're on a 5,000 tonne contract here with Tayto and it is steady. I wouldn't be at potatoes if it wasn't for Tayto, because of the amount of investment we had to put in," he says.
"You're not gonna get it both ways, you're not going to get high yields and high prices. A time of low yield is when you get the high prices."
Speaking about last year's drought, Ivan adds that it looked like it could've been a "disaster" but by employing targeted irrigation, he says it all worked out.
"It didn't turn out too bad at the end of the day. We couldn't irrigate everything. You could never get around to all 700 acres, but we picked 50 acres of the most valuable stuff. We luckily had access to a river.
"27,000 gallons an acre is an inch so it is hard work, and tends to be done at two or three at night so you wouldn't have many volunteers for that."
Ivan has fond memories of digging spuds before football training when he was growing up on the farm,
Broadleas Farm in Stamullen has been in his family since the 1950s when his father - Jim Curran, who was a sub on the famous All-Ireland winning Mayo football team in 1951 - moved to the area.
"My father was dairying at the start but always did tillage and a bit of potatoes and bits like that," says Ivan, who was born in 1962.
"In the early 70s he had a good few potatoes. Joe Murphy of Tayto came and bought spuds from us and from that time to now, we have been growing for them.
"He was dairying up until the end of the 70s and he had to make the decision to see if he wanted to build a bigger milking parlour because that's the way things were going so he took the decision to go into potatoes."
After completing a stint in the nearby Warrenstown Agricultural College, Ivan came back to help expand the family farm business with his father in 1981.
Ivan says his father was always a forward thinker when it came to expansion and was a key instigator in the family building their own storage system.
"He was always pushing for expansion up until he died in 2009. He never stopped me, he was a great man. He loved farming and sport and that was it," explains Ivan.
"When I started here in 1981, Tayto was storing in its own stores in Balbriggan and we stored a little here, but as time went on, we started building our own stores and storing for them and that was the way it progressed and how we expanded," says Ivan, who now stores 9,000 tonnes of potatoes at Broadleas.
Family is still very much at the heart of Broadleas as his wife Frances is key to running the farm - and his daughter, Sarah, who is currently nursing in Drogheda, plans to come back to help run the farm after a period working in Australia.
"She worked in a potato farm in Albany. It really reignited her love for farming so she will be coming back here at the end of the summer.
"My daughter Karena is interested in horses and our son Shane is in London working in music."
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