There was a lot of positive news at the recent National Potato Conference.
Potato consumption has increased and is expected to increase further.
The program to replace imported potatoes with domestic potatoes for the fresh chips market is beginning to bear fruit.
There is enormous potential in seed production for home use and perhaps also for export.
And the consumption of salad potatoes is increasing.
There is one big downer, however. In order to meet this increasing demand, the production area has to be expanded by up to 50 pieces. Who will plant this additional area?
The existing producers have little capacity to expand the production area. Most are at or above sustainable production levels for their infrastructure.
This can be seen by the amount of potatoes lying in soggy, frozen fields. There is no capacity to harvest the existing acreage in time, let alone an increased acreage.
If the potential of the sector is to be realised, new producers must be attracted into the business.
Potato production requires staggering investments in galvanized steel, concrete and wooden crates. It takes huge spending on fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, energy, and premium land. It’s an expensive endeavor.
However, potato growing is the only sector in agriculture for which there is no development aid program.
Measures to reduce production are underway in other sectors, but development aid is still available.
But a sector that meets so many criteria in terms of the environment, greenhouse gas emissions, food security, sustainability and economic performance has been left to its own devices. This needs to be fixed.
Those of us with a certain vintage will remember the man from Delmonte. This gentleman in a white suit and white fedora drove through the orange groves of Italy for quality control.
When the man from Delmonte said yes, the village celebrated: they had oranges for sale and the year was going to be good.
The ad from the ’80s didn’t elaborate on what happened if the Delmonte man said no. Many potato farmers could answer this question.
Premium products become expensive animal feed. The man in the fedora drives off to find other products, the growers bear the loss.
It’s not a great business plan. If the sector is to survive, this risk diversification needs to be addressed.
There are production models that could be looked at or adapted to the potato sector.
The poultry industry, where the processor bears most of the costs and the breeder receives an administration fee, is worth looking at, as is the producer organization structure in the mushroom and protected plant sectors.
A production system must be found that offers growers a sustainable income without risking losing everything if we are to reach the potential promised by the conference.
Richard Hackett is an agronomist based in North Co. Dublin and a member of the ACA and the ITCA
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/tillage/potato-sector-needs-development-aid-programm-e-to-attract-new-growers-and-meet-mushrooming-demand-42214530.html The potato sector needs a development assistance program to attract new growers and meet growing demand