THE recent spell of good weather has encouraged potato growers in Northern Ireland to get on with the completion of the 2019 harvest.
It’s estimated that 10 per cent of last year’s crop is still in the ground. A case in point is North Down grower Derek Erwin, who farms with his son Ethan.
The last few days have seen the father and son team ‘attempt’ to harvest a crop of Cultra, on the outskirts of Dundonald, which they started into last October.
“The potatoes should have been lifted before the end of October last. But the constant rain at that time made the completion of the harvest just impossible,” Derek explained.
“The crop was planted out in perfect conditions during the second week of May. North Down is one of the driest parts of County Down. We have a rain gauge on the farm.
“Annual rainfall levels for this part of the world usually come in at around 30 inches. For 2019 that figure increased to 45 inches. That’s 50 per cent more rain than we would normally receive.
“The rain started in earnest around the second week of June. And it never stopped for long enough to allow us get on with the harvest at the back end.”
Derek expects that crop yields in the fields now being harvested will be down between 15 per cent and 20 per cent .
He commented: “This figure is made up by a combination of winter kills and potatoes that simply rotted in the wet conditions.
“However, those potatoes that are making the boxes are of surprisingly good quality. Skin finish excellent and tuber size is very even.”
Wilson’s Country agronomist Stuart Meredith was a recent visitor to the Erwin farm.
He said: “Potato crops still in the ground have wintered surprisingly well. But it remains a race against time to get them harvested. Several nights of hard frost could do serious damage to these crops. And that remains a possibility, given that we are still at the beginning of February.”