Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 July 2018

Chipping away at spud imports - Farmers seeking to unearth the potential of salad potatoes

Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Farm organisations are seeking to unearth the potential of salad potatoes and chipping potatoes in order to reduce our reliance on imports.

The production of salad potatoes in Ireland has increased by 2,500 tonnes as a result of an initiative undertaken by Teagasc, Bord Bia and the IFA over the last three years.

In 2014, Ireland's salad potatoes accounted for 350 acres of land and supplied 5,000 tonnes. In 2017, production is estimated to account for 550 acres, with 7,500 tonnes going to the market.

Michael Hennessy (pictured) of Teagasc says the production of salad potatoes also allows potato producers who are growing mainly Roosters the opportunity to diversify.

"All existing salad potato growers in Ireland have increased their production and the project has attracted some new growers," he told the Farming Independent.

"Salad potatoes can be sown later and harvested earlier, which is another advantage to farmers. They also have the potential for higher revenue as they are a premium product.

"They offer a form of farm diversification within existing farm production rather than putting all your eggs in the traditional potato market."

The growth of salad potatoes requires "greater skill and attention to detail" than traditional potatoes as the market demands a narrow spec size and blemish-free skins. Targeted events were held as part of the initiative over a three-year period to discuss and demonstrate the agronomic and storage issues of growing salad potatoes.

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"The land selection is paramount for success. Growing salad potatoes requires greater farmer expertise," added Mr Hennessy.

"They're a little more expensive to produce than ware potatoes but sell for a much higher price per ton. If they don't make the grade, there's few alternative markets available to them."

IFA potato and fresh produce development officer Pat Farrell said there are now 10 farmers seriously involved in the production of salad potatoes, and he believes that there is potential for that figure to grow.

On the market research side, Bord Bia's Lorcan Bourke explained that households with one-to-three members and the retired age group are the biggest consumers of salad potatoes, with consumption concentrated in Dublin.

"They're handy for smaller households to eat and faster to cook, whereas bigger families consume the bag of traditional potatoes," he said.

"The salad potato retail market continues to grow year on year, with Irish retailers anxious to source and sell Irish produce."

Following on from the success of the salad potato campaign, the three groups are now looking toward increasing the amount of fresh Irish potatoes produced specifically for the chipping trade.

IFA potato committee chairman Eddie Doyle says 400 hectares of chipping potatoes are grown in Ireland every year, by 15-30 growers. He believes we can increase our production of these varieties.

"Over the next three years we aim to supply half of the Irish chipping market with Irish produce. The salad potato campaign proves that we can grow salad potatoes as good as anywhere else in the world, and the same is true for chipping potatoes," he said.

Mr Doyle explained that it's important that we look at different chipping potato varieties and make it known to chippers that Irish chipping potatoes are available all year round, but warned that there are challenges.

"We've persisted with Maris Piper but the new variety of Marquis is better suited to our climate and recommended for chips," he said.

"But we are up against a large UK crop that is the cream of the crop - they're very specialist growers over there. The British chipping potato has achieved a reputation of being of high quality over the years because of its storage."

Mr Bourke explained that it's important that we are able to compete with this "aesthetically pleasing light-coloured UK chip".

"If the sugar-starch ratio is wrong, the oil that the chips are cooked in blackens more due to the chip being brown. Chippers buy in oil by the bucket load, so if they have a lighter chip they will get increased longevity and shelf-life out of the oil, and they're more profitable overall," he said.

"There will be challenges but we're optimistic."

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