Wilson’s Country is confirming that two-thirds of this year’s potato crop has yet to be harvested around the country.

The Co. Armagh-based potato packer and processer works with growers throughout the island of Ireland.

Company managing director, Lewis Cunningham told Agriland: “We are about six weeks behind with this year’s harvest. Yields are down approximately 10%, year-on-year. Tuber quality is also an issue.”   

Challenging year for the potato crop

Cunningham confirmed that local potato growers are facing into one of the most challenging harvests in living memory.

“The harvest is just the latest setback that has confronted potato growers this year,” he added.

“The very wet weather in April meant that main crop potatoes were not planted out until the middle of May, a full six weeks later than would normally be the case.

“Drought-like conditions followed, which hampered the germination and early growth of crops. But then came the heavy rains of July and August.

“Short of heavy snow in the middle of the summer, Northern Ireland’s potato growing community has had to cope with every extreme of weather that nature could ever conceive of throwing at them in 2023,” he said.

Even before this year’s potato harvest got underway, potato growers knew that yields would be well down, year-on-year.

“The switch from the very hot and dry conditions of June to the monsoons of July has created growth cracking problems in quite a number of crops,” Cunningham added.

“Something consumers do not want to see in bags and as a result, the potatoes in question cannot be sold in retail outlets.

“Also as the industry was coming out of a year with extremely low stocks of potatoes in store from the previous season, we really needed a early good yielding harvest with no problems.

“Early September saw harvest get underway but it quickly turned into a nightmare, as growers attempt to lift potatoes out of the ground that is just saturated, conditions have been more like November than September,” the Wilson Country’s managing director added.

 He explained that ground conditions were “pretty much bottomless” at the time, especially after Storm Agnes.

He said that he saw potato harvesters getting totally bogged down in places like Bishopscourt in Co. Down.

Wilson’s Country chairman, Angus Wilson (left) and company managing director Lewis Cunningham

According to Lewis Cunningham, potato growers across Europe have had major challenges to confront throughout 2023.

“Most of these issues have been weather-related. Floods earlier in the year created major delays in planting dates in countries like France, Italy, Spain and Portugal,” he said.

“This was followed by a prolonged drought, which served to reduce the yield potential of potato crops dramatically.

“As a consequence, potato supplies will be very constrained right across Europe over the coming months,” he continued.

Adding to the economic pressures on potato growers in 2023 were the very strong fertiliser and agrochemical prices that characterised the entire growing season.

“Sustainable prices at retail level will be required to get the entire potato sector through the next few months.”