Worst Tyrone potato harvest in years

Poor potato harvest fears
Poor potato harvest fears

A late spring followed by a wet summer and difficulties in securing arable land have led to fears that Tyrone’s potato harvest could be the worst in years.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the effects of the poor weather have been exacerbated by rules governing the grants payable to potato growers and the land available to them.

Local MLAs have raised their fears for the sector at the Northern Ireland Assembly and requested government support.

In response, Minister Michelle O’Neill said the department was taking steps to tackle the problems facing farmers.

“Some growers have had difficulty in securing sufficient land, or secured poorer quality land than in previous years”, she said.

“I am also aware that the cold spring earlier this year has delayed the recent potato crop by four weeks and will likely impact negatively on yields.”

Northern Irish grown new potatoes have arrived on the shop shelves two weeks later than usual.

“This year has been more difficult because of the late frost in May which destroyed a lot of potatoes”, said one local potato farmer.

Only potato crops grown in eastern parts of the province managed to escape the devastating effects of the frost which killed the first leaves of the plants.

A spokesperson for the Ulster Farmers Union said it was a summer ‘farmers will be happy to forget’, with the weather delaying the harvest long after the crop should have been on the shelves.

“The problems began for growers with difficulties securing conacre land, because of the number of land owners that decided not to rent their land”, said the union.

“This left growers facing either high conacre prices or being unable to secure land for their crops - and this was at the end of a season in 2014 when prices were poor and cash was scarce on farms.

“The weather has been difficult this year for planting and growing crops, and as with other commodities the weak euro is giving competitors in the eurozone a big competitive advantage in the local and GB market.

“That said farmers are optimists by nature, and farmers never stop hoping for a good harvest in the autumn and some tightening of supplies elsewhere to improve prices.”

Minister Michelle O’Neill added said her department is providing secretarial and technical support for the newly formed NI Stakeholder Potato Promotion Group, which will launch a three-year potato promotion campaign in the autumn funded by a levy from potato growers and the NI Regional Food Programme.

Farmers are hoping that come the autumn the weather will be drier.