THE first of this year’s Comber Earlies have been dug up two weeks ahead of schedule, coinciding with the gathering of global industry leaders in Dublin this week for the 11th World Potato Congress.
This is the first time the Congress has been hosted in Ireland and comes as growers are faced with eye-watering increases in input costs, coupled with reports of a 14 per cent drop in the retail price of potatoes, while other food staples such as pasta, rice and bread have all increased (by as much as 50 per cent in the case of pasta).
However, while such figures may appear alarming, farmers in Northern Ireland can be assured their contract price will at least protect them from such price movements.
When asked for his view on the figures, Lewis Cunningham, managing director of Wilson’s Country, told FarmWeek he believed they were based on data from the GB market and not NI/ROI and only provided a snapshot of where prices are.
“The data is a snapshot in time, i.e one month April, it’s not a 12 month rolling which would more truly reflect price movements”, he explained.
“Taking this data you are perhaps suggesting there is a direct link to price movements based on an April price in this data and grower price in April, I cannot answer for others but we have a contract price with our growers that is set before harvest, this year’s price is increased on last harvest to reflect current increased costs of fertiliser, fuel and labour,” he further commented.
On the outlook for prices going forward he said this would be driven by the supply of potatoes which is dictated by the growing season and harvest, and by demand, which again would be influenced by price – all of which is difficult to predict.
“It’s a complex equation,” he explained. “Though for a supply chain to continue and be sustainable all elements require to be profitable, hence increased cost position does require to be considered and reflected to the market.”
The arrival of an early spring which brought with it prime growing conditions in the Comber and Ards Peninsula areas has delivered an early crop of Comber Earlies, traditionally the first potato to come through after the crops are planted out at the beginning of March.
The fields of William Orr & Son in County Down have been awash with activity as they work to provide Comber Earlies for 500 stores supplied by Henderson Wholesale in Northern Ireland.
Commenting on the early arrival, Noel McGregor, Trading Manager at Henderson Wholesale, said: “The team at Orrs has been lifting the first of their Earlies this week, and we all know these potatoes are best eaten fresh, so we’re delighted to be giving them a quick turnaround in our warehouses and send them out to stores in a matter of hours.”
He added: “We’re about two weeks ahead of the usual schedule for Comber Earlies, which are usually dug up and on shelves mid-June, mostly due to the early appearance of spring weather, bringing prime growing conditions.
“We have been trading with William Orr & Son for over 30 years now, and as per previous years, their crop is looking fantastic and ready to be picked up by our shoppers and enjoyed at home for tonight’s tea,” he added.
Meanwhile, the World Potato Congress has been underway in Dublin’s RDS this week and will draw to a close today (Thursday).
Securing the event for Ireland was a major coup for the Irish Potato Federation, with previous host countries including Canada, China, Peru, USA and New Zealand.
It played host to 1,000 delegates from over 60 countries who participated in three days of presentations and discussions on issues affecting potatoes and their use around the world.
The Republic’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, officially opened the event on Monday, with delegates also hearing an opening address from Janusz Wojciechowski, EU Commissioner for Agriculture.
While Ireland has a long history with the potato with its consumption now ranking 2.5 times the global average, the humble spud proudly holds its place on the world stage as the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat in terms of human consumption.
Speaking about the World Potato Congress, Mr Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development said: “It is my great pleasure to attend this year’s World Potato Congress in Dublin. As a staple food, the potato carries deep social and historical significance in Ireland, as well as in my home country of Poland, and continues to nourish populations around the globe today.
“For this reason, the Congress provides a perfect opportunity to discuss how we can work towards achieving sustainable food security together.”
With Ukraine and Russia representing the third and fourth highest potato producing countries in the world, the event saw a significant focus on the impact the war will have on the future of potato production and the role the Polish potato industry is playing in assisting the coordintation of Ukraine’s crop production.
The nutritional value of the potato was also discussed with delegates hearing that while it has often been viewed as a “bad carb” its nutritional credentials are staggering, with a 148g serving of potato containing 45 per cent of a person’s daily vitamin C requirement,18 per cent of the potassium needed every day and just 66 calories.
During the closing ceremony yesterday (Wednesday) outgoing CEO and President of World Potato Congress, Romain Cools, launched ‘The Declaration of Dublin’ which outlined four key pillars by which the potato can assist in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set out by the United Nations in 2015.
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