What’s eating the potato?

AMONG the many lovely things about flower-filled May are the early potato stalks rising ever upwards. In recent years, many people, yours truly included, have returned to vegetable-growing and there’s a primal joy in watching those hardly, little green leaves breaking through the soil.

The potato has left its mark on the landscape. The ‘lazy beds’ show the outline of ridges from the Famine. And what an unjust misnomer that is, given the honest sweat and toil involved and the horrible outcome.

The Irish love of the potato is not what it once was. Invaders such as rice and pasta are appearing more often on dinner plates. For such reasons, it’s great to see that a new competition, begun in the west Kerry gaeltacht to find the region’s best potatoes, is going national.

An Spud-Off Mór — potato growers in parishes in, and around, west Dingle vie for the coveted title of best spud — is due to be rolled out countrywide.

Using the model established in An Spud-Off Mór, the final of which is hosted annually in Baile na nGall, the spud-off competitions will take place in a number of locations.

Groups like Bord Bia have been warning that action is needed to halt the decline of the spud. If present trends continue, consumption in Ireland will have dropped from the current 162,000 tonnes to 100,000 tonnes by 2023.

While sales are still well ahead of the alternatives mentioned above, the decline will continue if nothing is done, says Bord Bia. The average annual consumption, per person, in Ireland, is 85kgs, compared to 33kgs worldwide.

Potato promoters also flag its health benefits as a natural, unprocessed, low-fat food, high in potassium and Vitamin C. Dietary fads come and go, but it’s what people plaster onto their potatoes, like lashings of butter, that put on the weight.

By the way, I was surprised to learn that roosters are by far the most popular potato here now. I had always thought it was the flowery Kerrs pink. The rooster has 60% of the market, followed by pinks and queens, which each have 8%.

Price is another issue, with the Irish Farmers’ Association saying that potato production is under threat, because growers are getting too little for their crop — just 26% of the consumer price, down from 36% a few years ago.

About 50,000 tonnes are also imported annually.

There’s still hope, however. If porridge can make a comeback, why not the faithful spud?

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