Challenging season sees potato acreage drop 5%
Irish potato growers have had a very challenging season. Market distortion following the Covid pandemic, coupled with soaring input costs, created the ‘perfect storm’.
The area of potatoes planted this year reduced by 5% compared to 2021 plantings, bringing the planted acreage in line with 2018 levels, delegates at this week's National Potato Conference and Trade Show 2022 heard from Sean Ryan, IFA Potato Chairman, and Michael Hennessey, Head of Knowledge Transfer Crops, Teagasc.
Organised by IFA in association with Teagasc and Bord Bia, those in attendence heard that the challenges for growers producing potatoes have increased substantially in the past two years due to increased input prices - especially fertiliser and electricity - and a relatively static output price.
The growing season was mixed regionally. Drought conditions and sustained periods with above average temperatures have led to reduced yields in some regions. Early harvest was impeded by very high dry matter levels as a result of late drought. The knock-on effect of drought conditions led to the late maturation of some crops and delayed harvest in regions. High rainfall in October has led to very poor harvest conditions and the likelihood of some crops being overwintered.
In terms of markets, it has been a very mixed year for growers as a result of changing consumption trends following the lifting of Covid restrictions. Retail sales in the first half of the year were quite sluggish and consumers shifted away from bigger pack sizes, which reduced volume sales. Trade picked up again in the back-end of the year as the rising cost of living saw consumers revert to staple products.
Speaking from the event, IFA President, Tim Cullinan highlighted that with input costs at an all-time high, combined with uncertainty in the supply chain and a tough season for potato growers, now more than ever potato farmers need the market to return a fair price that makes their farms viable.
"Growers need to receive a fair share of the retail value. They carry all of the risk while the facilitators and retailers take the lion’s share of the margin.
“The office for Fairness and Transparency in the Agri Food Supply Chain is now approved and a budget is in place. This office will be crucial in ensuring a fair share of the consumer euro goes to farmers, and in regulating unfair trading practices," he said.
“If there isn’t a viable price for farmers for their work and investment, then we will see more farmers in horticulture and potato sectors go out of business,” he said.
The event gave growers and insight into the emerging lifestyle and potato purchasing habit trends, while the marketing efforts to target these groups were also discussed. The second part of the day focused on a number of critical agronomic challenges such as blight and wire worm.