'You can't keep going to the well'

Willie Lenane in his field of ruined potatoes. Photo: Sean Byrne
Willie Lenane in his field of ruined potatoes. Photo: Sean Byrne

Nearly 150 tonnes of Golden Wonders are "melting" into the ground at Willie Lenane's farm at Clashmore in Co Waterford.

Willie (63) told how the heavy floods over the winter have caused major damage at the 110ac farm that has been producing potatoes, mainly for local markets, for over 60 years.

"We normally harvest the Golden Wonders in March and sell them later. I had a look at them last November when they were very green and then the rains came," he says.

"We have had heavy rain here before as well as heavy frosts but we always managed to harvest the potatoes in the spring. But not this year," adds Willie, a widower farming on his own.

"I thought we might get through the winter despite the rain but it never stopped and now the potato crop is destroyed. The potatoes are just black and mushy and are just melting into the ground."

Some 15 acres of the farm are under potatoes - five acres for early varieties and 10 acres for the spring harvest. The early potatoes escaped the damage but the losses from the late potatoes were high when they began harvesting.

The financial cost of the weather this winter at the Clashmore farm is high - €2,000 an acre in planting and cultivation costs and €6,000 in sales losses which works out at an estimated €80,000.

"And what makes it worse is there has been a good nice pick up this year in the prices being paid at the markets I sell in," he says.

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'We've had bad years sometimes with rain but mostly with frost but I have never seen anything like this year for rain."

Willie even wrote a letter to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to enquire if there was any emergency funding available to deal with his situation and that of many other farmers in the vegetable business and recently he received a courteous but negative reply from one of the Minister's civil servants.

The emergency aid allocated by the Government in the wake of the storms, which hit Ireland over the winter and which wreaked havoc at all kinds of farming enterprises, was only being allocated for fodder and farm buildings which were damaged during the inundations, the letter outlined.

"I am now thinking of replying to the Minister and saying that I feel totally let down," he says, adding that he feels he will be in a "worse state" than his potato crop by the time he is finished dealing with it.


Willie said he is still earning income from the rest of his land. The early onions fared fine, however, he is slightly worried about three acres of carrots due to be harvested shortly, while the turnips look good.

The rest of the land is used for silage as he sometimes buys weanlings, combined with a small bit of forestry. However, his main money earner is the vegetable enterprise and the loss of the potato crop has dealt a major blow.

"I am lucky I have low repayments but you can't live on your reserves all the time. You can't keep going to the well," he said.

"If you are lucky the banks will lend to you but they will calculate the value of your crop on the cheapest price per tonne in the market and if customers can get a bag of potatoes for 29c well that's the value of your crop as far as the banks are concerned," he points out, criticising low cost selling.

"Everything else is changing. When my daughter visits sometimes she will take a bag of potatoes home with her but most times she says 'I'll get them in the supermarket and put them in the trolley'."

He is worried about taking another €80,000 gamble on the weather. "I'm thinking of putting the farm under trees. I think I'll just plant the trees," he says quietly.

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