Northern farmers face disaster due to 'worst potato harvest in 30 years'

Fresh potatoes are the only major carbohydrate grown in Ireland
Fresh potatoes are the only major carbohydrate grown in Ireland

Kate Buck

Potato farmers in Northern Ireland could potentially be facing the worst in harvest since 1985, according to the Ulster Farmer's Union.

They have warned that due to the increasingly long periods of wet weather, fields have been left virtually inaccessible until very recently.

"Some growers have only been able to get into their fields for the first time this month," said UFU potato chairman Robert Sibbett.

"Potatoes are just rotting in the fields because the weather is so wet.

"I'm normally finished harvesting the potatoes by the time the clocks change.

"I don't remember it being this bad since the wet weather in 1985.

"It's having a knock-on effect on everything else."

In some cases, the situation is so bad growers have abandoned harvest attempts until the New Year due to the poor ground conditions.

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There are also reports that small amounts of rot are being found in harvested potatoes in storage.

For some potato farmers, this could end up being the worst harvest in living history, and up to 10% of their crops could be left green and leave them inedible.

This loss could end up costing farmers hundreds of thousands of pounds each.

"These unfavourable conditions affect the quantity of marketable produce coming out of the ground," says Mr Sibbett.

"It is proving to be another financially testing harvest.

"Growers are doing their best to adjust to the poor weather and the challenges it brings to harvesting their crops.

"Growers should continue to market their crops strongly and hope that these efforts are given due merit from buyers, processors and retailers," the UFU representative said.

Ards Peninsula potato farmer Derek Erwin - who told the Belfast Telegraph in late October that he faced losing more than £130,000 worth of potatoes because of the wet conditions, said that potato farmers were facing disaster.

Mr Erwin - who has around 220 acres of potatoes in the ground - said that the constant rains and lack of wind and sunlight was making it impossible to finish the harvest.

"The machines just sink into the mud," he said last night.

Even a hard cold snap that stiffened the ground would be of little help, the farmer added.

"We can't lift the tubers is they are -4C," said Mr Erwin.

"They're too easily damaged.

"It's the same all over Northern Ireland.

"The best off are probably the farmers in south Down - but for the folk in north Antrim it's just been terrible.

"We're somewhere in the middle here.

"We need more light, and breezier days that'll dry the ground so we can get the potatoes lifted."

Belfast Telegraph

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