Maher Urges Processing Development

Published online: Mar 14, 2005
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Irish government potato specialist Tom Maher is urging growers to develop the processing production side of their industry.

He told growers at the annual national potato conference that almost 100,000 tons of processed potatoes now are imported into Ireland a year.

"There is an onus on us to capture as much of this market as possible", Maher said.

He said only about 10 percent of Irish potato production goes into the processing sector compared with more than 50 percent in the United Kingdom.

"If we are to put a floor under our struggling potato industry we need to follow the UK lead" he said.

"Potato farmers need to grow suitable varieties for the production of high-quality frozen chips. They need to produce potatoes with a reasonably high dry matter content and if supplying for the processing market post Christmas, they need stores capable of holding the potatoes at a temperature of 8 degrees C or higher."

Maher said the Irish potato trade is in oversupply for the second season in a row, despite 68 farmers leaving the business last year.

   "Any extra outlet for produce deserves serious consideration," he said. "It is important that growers diversify into growing potatoes suitable for processing."

   Minister of State for Agriculture and Food Brendan Smith told the conference he was confident of the future of the potato sector and its ability to make an important contribution to the national and rural economy.

   He said a measure of this confidence was shown in 15 projects being awarded grant aid of 5.4 million euro (US$7.14 million) as part of an investment of 14 million euro (US$18.5 million) in potato storage, grading, packing and washing facilities.

   Other positive developments in the sector include the provision of full traceability of potatoes back to the primary producer and a planned 100,000-euro (US$132,000) potato promotion program to be launched as soon as it achieves European Union approval.

   Smith said the co-operation of growers north and south of the border to acquire the only chip-manufacturing factory in the island of Ireland, Ballymoney Foods in County Antrim, was also a very significant development.

   "This is an excellent project in which there is considerable scope for further scale," he said.

   Smith said that rationalization was taking place within the industry with 150 growers now producing 76% of the crop.

   "The potato sector is a very significant sector in the agri- food industry," he said. "I am confident that it is sufficiently strong and structured to overcome the challenges facing it and for my part I will ensure that adequate resources and support will continue to be provided by the State to ensure that the sector can grow and prosper."