'It's a perfect storm', says the king of spuds

In June 2012 Ned English lost acres of potatoes to flooding, now drought is cutting in to his yields

Ned English (right) and his son, Edward (left) have managed to irrigate 200 acres of potatoes out of 450 acres.
Ned English (right) and his son, Edward (left) have managed to irrigate 200 acres of potatoes out of 450 acres.

Maria Herlihy

Back in June in 2012, Ned English, the mammoth potato grower, lost four acres of his crop due to flooding - fast forward six years and the present drought has scorched fields, and he is now "praying for rain".

Mr English planted 450 acres of potatoes and 50 acres of onions  this year and he told The Corkman this week that he is "fortunate" that he can irrigate 200 acres of his potato crop. 

"Even the irrigation is a round the clock job as we are pumping water from the rivers. There is also the extra cost as we are burning diesel at a phenomenal rate to do this, but there's 60% of our crop that we just can't get at. I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime," he said. 

"The fields are burning up and nationwide only 10% of potatoes can be irrigated. This is not just a problem in Ireland but it's also across the UK and Europe. 

"Consumers will also suffer as there isn't any growth and that means that the price of potatoes, carrots, broccoli and all peeled vegetables will be more expensive." 

Mr English, along with is son Edward and daughter Niamh, operate the highly successful Castlecor Potatoes and are Lidl's number one producer for potatoes in the country. 

Over the last number of years they have spent €3 million developing their highly successful family run business. 

Their harvesters have 15 cameras on board which can watch the flow of potatoes when they are lifted from the ground and passed over the rotating cleaners. Their many tractors navigate using GPS technology during the planting process. 

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However, it is now very tough business with the soaring temperatures and arid ground.  Mr English said he can clearly remember the last drought in 1976.

"I had potatoes growing in 1976 but it is nothing like it is now. The severity of it now is much more serious," he said. "Back in 1976 the temperatures was 20 degrees but now it's 30 and then factor in the humidity. 

"In 1976, we had a normal spring and the drought didn't take hold until much later when the crop was actually established. This time  around this is not the case at all as the Spring was so shocking," he said.

He said he remembers reading an article about four years ago about climate change and Ireland.

"I read that because of climate change that Ireland would be able to grow grapes and would be able to produce wine and with this weather it is making life very unpredictable for producers in Ireland. 

"It is rare in Ireland that we pray for rain but that is what is happening now - praying for rain. Moderation is a magic word and that is what we need," said Mr English. 

"All yields are down across the board - straw is down 35%  and barley will be down but yet cattle numbers are up 25%, which is a perfect storm. 

"The Government needs to act fast and unless something very strange and special happens, and I am not talking about some rain but substantial rain, then all of this is the makings of a perfect storm." 

However, Mr English said: "But we will survive because that is in us and we will dig in just like all the other farmers across the country and especially in Duhallow as they are very durable people and will survive. 

"But we have to ultimately find ways and means to solve all these problems with solutions."