Crops ‘rot in fields’ in worst NI harvest in over 30 years

David Morrow, Glens of Antrim Potatoes with Susanna Hassard, Asda Northern Ireland.
David Morrow, Glens of Antrim Potatoes with Susanna Hassard, Asda Northern Ireland.

Potato growers in Northern Ireland have been left counting the cost after experiencing one of the worst harvests in a generation.

Crops have been virtually inaccessible due to a long stretch of wet weather and potatoes have been left rotting in fields, according to the Ulster Farmers Union.

In some cases, the situation is so bad growers have abandoned harvest attempts until the New Year due to the poor ground conditions.

There are also reports that small amounts of rot are being found in harvested potatoes in storage.

David Morrow from Glens of Antrim Potatoes said the situation was the worst he had encountered in over 30 years.

He told the News Letter: “This is a catastrophe for potato farmers in Northern Ireland.

“By this time of year our whole crops should be in cold storage, but the stores are sitting half full.

“It has been 10 days since our last harvest and 50% of our crop is still in the ground.

“It really is a nightmare for potato farmers in Northern Ireland.”

Meanwhile, Ulster Farmers Union chairman Robert Sibbett warned that the unfavourable conditions would affect the quantity of marketable produce coming out of the ground.

“It is proving to be another financially testing harvest,” he added.

While Mr Morrow said enough of the company’s crop had been harvested to see it through the Christmas period, he added: “We can only hope for a dry spell between now and Easter to get the rest of the crop out of the ground.”

He also warned that plummeting temperatures could destroy the remaining crop in the fields, or make handling the crop very difficult.

“This could lead to quality issues with the crop and any produce which is not up to standard will not make it into the hands of consumers.

“All in all it is a bit of a disaster and will lead to some cash flow problems on farms in Northern Ireland in the coming months.”

Mr Morrow, a buyer for the Cushendall-based company in Co Antrim, said the north of the Province had been the worst affected by the extreme weather.

He added: “Farmers in Mid-Ulster, the north east and north west have suffered the most I would say.

“We as farmers are at the mercy of mother nature. It is not a business for the faint-hearted.”

UFU chairman Mr Sibbett felt this year’s harvest was the most difficult in three decades.

“I’m normally finished harvesting the potatoes by the time the clocks change,” he added.

“I don’t remember it being this bad since the wet weather in 1985. It’s having a knock-on effect on everything else.”

Mr Sibbett said the spell of extreme weather would impact the level of produce available to consumers.

He added: “Growers are doing their best to adjust to the poor weather and the challenges it brings to harvesting their crops.

“Growers should continue to market their crops strongly and hope that these efforts are given due merit from buyers, processors and retailers.”