Between 55% and 60% of Northern Ireland’s 2023 potato crop is still in the ground, for the most part, rotting in the drills.

This is the assessment of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) presidential team, the members of which visited potato and vegetable farms worst affected by the recent storms.

UFU deputy president, John McLenaghan, commented: “Potato growers with crops left in the ground are now looking at a total loss scenario, where these potatoes are concerned.

“The water level is just so high that tubers are already starting to rot. The salvage value in these situations is pretty much zero.”

Subsequent to the farm visits, the UFU contacted all of the political parties in Northern Ireland, highlighting the plight of potato growers.

The question then arises as to where the money to find an aid package can be sourced.

Help after failure of potato crop

In the absence of a functioning Executive at Stormont, John McLenaghan has confirmed that all of the relevant local councils in Northern Ireland will be contacted by the UFU over the coming days.

He added:

“But the support monies, if they are to be found, will have to come from London. Getting approval at this level will not be easy or straightforward.”

Meanwhile all of Northern Ireland’s political parties have joined forces in campaigning for a support fund to be agreed by Westminster; in light of the flooding damage caused last week in places like Newry, Downpatrick and Portadown.

Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, has indicated that he will make the strongest possible case to secure a support package for those businesses most severely impacted by the recent floods.

It is expected that the UFU will call for potato growers to be included within the remit of such a scheme, should one be forthcoming.

The reality is that 2023 has been an absolute challenge for the potato sector from the get-go. A cold, wet spring meant that planting dates were severely delayed.

There then followed a mini-drought, which served only to hamper growth rates. And then came the summer deluges, followed by more rain as we got into the autumn period.

Ground never got a chance to dry out at all during the summer months. This meant that the autumn harvest window was always going to prove difficult. But the heavy rains that did fall in October made the job of harvesting potatoes impossible.

Potato farmers in Northern Ireland were included in the support measures agreed in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

The monies made available back in 2021 recognised the loss of business incurred by growers, following the almost complete shutdown of the catering sector.