Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

'It's about trying to keep spuds looking right'

How two Irish brothers are keeping their family potato farm in business

John ans Chris Fortune are amongst Ireland's top potato growers.
John ans Chris Fortune are amongst Ireland's top potato growers.

Gone are the days when almost every Irish family used to grow their own spuds for the table.

But that doesn't mean potatoes are gone out of fashion with SuperValu announcing that it expects to sell €32m in home grown Irish potatoes this season.

Potato growing nowadays is big business. The potato production area in Ireland is currently a bout 12,000ha with 600 growers involved in commercial potato production.

Among Ireland's biggest producers are the Fortune family from Co Wexford, who have been growing potatoes commercially since the 1960s.

Long-standing suppliers to SuperValu for the last 15 years, the Fortune brothers Chris and John took over the farm from their father and are now themselves seasoned crop farmers.

John and Chris also produce baby salad potatoes and are one of the few Irish farmers who specialise in growing and harvesting baby potato crops.

"I’m at it all my life", Chris said when asked how he got into the business.

With the noise of a busy farmyard in the background Chris comments that he is ‘flat out harvesting early potatoes’ at the moment.

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Chris explains the biggest challenge in the potato farming business is trying to keep the spuds looking right.

“The look of the potato for the consumer is all important. There can be any defects or blistering. achieving this is not easy.

This is particularly the case with salad potatoes which are becoming more and more popular with consumers.

“The salads are a huge risk. If something goes wrong. If they look wrong. They all go to cattle feed. There is just one other market,” Chris explains that after the cost of tilling the ground, planting and managing the crop such an outcome can be a huge blow.

“There no room for error,” he says.

Chris said their relationship with SuperValu is very important and has been something we have carefully cultivated over the last 15 years.

"As second-generation growers, our farm has been building slowly over the last three decades, but developing strong partnerships like this and seeing your product sold in SuperValu stores across Ireland makes all the hard work worth it.”

John and Chris will provide SuperValu stores across Ireland with new season Irish potatoes, including Roosters and Queens, with Kerr’s Pinks and Golden Wonders available in stores from August.

So what’s it like working with your brother day in day out?

Chris says he gets on great with his brother. Both have a 50:50 stake in the business. “If there are rows you have to get over them fairly quickly. There’s no time to be thinking about it too much,” he said.

We have put huge investment into the business over the years. The machinery and equipment needed nowadays to be a commercial grower are enormous.

“It’s get big or get out. Simple as,” he said.

“At a rough guess we would be producing over 5,500t of potatoes every year. Farmers cannot justify the spend without having big acreage of land sown.

“Lads have left the business in recent years. It’s been tough like all sectors in farming really,” he said.

Over half of the production area is based in North Leinster with the counties of Meath, Dublin and Louth being the key production areas.

In terms of varieties grown main crop potatoes account for over 70pc of total production with the balance being made up of early variety production processing variety production.

Since its release in 1991, the area under Rooster production has grown to over 40pc of the total potato ware area in Ireland today.

Online Editors

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