No-deal Brexit could cut off seed for 2019 potato crop

Potato growers could be the first in farming to suffer in a no-deal Brexit outcome, because seed for the crop might not be available.

Teagasc potato specialist Shay Phelan has urged growers to order or take delivery of seed for 2019 as soon as possible, to avoid a no-deal Brexit on March 29, 2019, delaying delivery.

About 40-50% of the Rooster and Kerr’s Pink potato seed for Ireland comes from the UK; for other varieties, it is a significantly higher percentage.

The optimum planting time for maincrop potatoes is March and April, if soil conditions are suitable. But the danger of leaving seed orders to the last minute has been spelled out.

Teagasc has highlighted the potato situation, but it illustrates that any farmer depending on farm inputs which come from the UK could be affected by a no-deal Brexit stopping deliveries until trading agreements are put in place, which could take months.

Even without Brexit, potato seed yields and supply are likely to have been reduced by the summer drought in Ireland and the UK, after Bord Bia yield digs showed this year’s potato yields were the lowest since 2012. In addition, according to Shay

Phelan of Teagasc, many growers who regularly keep their own home-saved seed had to treat their crops with maleic hydracide, to prevent secondary growth, and this will greatly reduce the viability of seed kept from these crops.

Bord Bia yield digs indicated that irrigated Rooster crops delivered 13.56 tonnes per acre of 50-80mm potatoes, and 12.91t of non-irrigated Roosters. Irrigated Kerr’s Pink crops delivered 12.68 tonnes per acre of 50-80mm potatoes, and 9.3t of non-irrigated Roosters. National average yields, according to the Bord Bia digs, were 13.42t of Rooster and 11.48t of Kerr’s Pink, compared to respective 10-year averages of 16.13t and 13.87t.

It’s a big change from 2017’s high yields of 19.48t and 14.97t. According to Teagasc, the area of maincrop varieties planted in 2018 also fell from 7,987 ha in 2017 to 7,325ha this year. Consequently, overall 2018 production will be down significantly from 2017. CSO figures for 2017 estimated the total crop at 412,000 tonnes; this year’s crop is likely to be about 260,000 tonnes.

As a result of this under-supply, prices for Irish potatoes have risen, by 14.2% compared to 12 months ago, according to the Central Statistics Office.

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