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Opinion: ‘Is success of the potato industry Ireland’s best kept secret?’

This article was written by Richard Halleron and first published by Agriland here

The figures speak for themselves. Back in 2013, Irish potato consumption levels had dropped to 100,000t/yr and were projected, back then, to keep on falling. Today the figure stands at 200,000t and looks set to rise into the future.

So what has brought about this more than significant – and very welcome – turn of events about?

Well, unless anyone would like to argue differently, the plaudits for all of this must be directed towards Bord Bia [Irish Food Board].

Success of potato industry

This week’s National Potato Conference saw Bord Bia’s Lorcan Bourke spell it out – cause and effect.

The decision was taken almost a decade ago to tell young people the real story behind Irish potatoes. And the approach worked. Potato consumption levels amongst millennials (18 to 34 year olds) have risen by 16% since 2019, and this figure looks set to grow into the future.

There is little doubt that the humble spud has been at the very centre of an ‘operation transformation’ over the past number of years, not just here but in many countries around the world.

I first picked this theme up at the World Potato Congress, held in Dublin back at the end of May.

The over-arching focus for the event was the role that potatoes can play in delivering safe and sustainable food to countless millions of people around the world.

And, in many ways, this should not come as a total shock to people here in Ireland. Consider our own history – famine apart – the potato had been lifting Irish families out of poverty for generations.

At the beginning of the 19th century Ireland boasted the tallest race of people in Europe. I sense the potato had something to do with this. So the potato remains Ireland’s favourite vegetable, this is good news indeed.

It’s important then that the Irish government continues to support the potato sector. For his part, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Martin Heydon seemed to be ‘hitting all of the right notes’ (and, hopefully, all in the right order) during his address to the potato conference.

It is currently costing Irish farmers €3,000 to grow 1ac of potatoes. A day’s harvesting alone comes with a direct operating cost of €1,000.

This is real money and farmers need to get a price that compensates them for the investment they are making.     

Let’s hope this turns out to be the case over the coming weeks and months.

Author: Richard Halleron. First published by Agriland here
Cover photo: Attending the 2022 National Potato Conference l to r: Patrick Dehaene; Ross Keogh and Richard Dehaene. Credit and courtesy Richard Halleron/Agriland

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