Farmers and industry from across the country attended the National Potato Conference and Trade Show organised by Teagasc, IFA and Bord Bia in the Red Cow Hotel, Dublin yesterday, Tuesday, 20 February.
Respected dietitian, Aoife Hearne, speaking at the conference, commented: “For health, we are focusing on wellness, eating intuitively, and moving towards natural foods. Potatoes, a non-processed carbohydrate, also provide fibre and potassium and are a food everybody should be including as part of a balanced diet.” Fiona Crispe, from the Teagasc & APC Microbiome Institute, highlighted the benefit of potatoes to our gut microbes which contribute to our health; “These microbes can change with diet so feeding them, and ourselves, the right food will enhance diversity and maintain the correct types. These microbes respond well to potatoes and other vegetables, producing the desirable short chain fatty acids which are vital for our health.”
Market Research by Kantar Worldpanel has revealed a stabilisation of potato consumption in Ireland, reversing the previous trend of falling consumption in previous years. Potatoes are bought once every second in Irish retailer outlets with 1.67 million household purchases annually. Shoppers are returning to buy more often and the volume purchased by the average Irish household is now at 125kg per year, from a low of 103kg in 2013.
The conference received an update on the potato promotion campaign Potatoes: More Than A Bit on the Side, which aims to increase the consumption of potatoes and specifically targets 22-44-year-old females. Over the period of the campaign, both volumes and frequency of potato purchase have increased. Lorcan Bourke, Bord Bia, commenting on the figures said: “The potato market has stabilised in recent years bringing demand back to 2007 levels and effectively highlighted the positive benefits of potatoes.”
Ed Tobin, a farm manager for Slaney Produce in Wexford, outlined their experiences in growing Salad Potatoes and how it has fitted into the company’s business. Ed told the conference; “Salad potatoes fits well into our business as these potatoes can be sown and harvested earlier than main crops, thereby utilising machinery and manpower better over the year.” He also added: “Greater growers’ knowledge and skills are necessary to grow the crop as exacting size and skin finish are demanded from the marketplace”. Dr. Stuart Wale, SRU, Scotland highlighted the main agronomic areas to watch for when growing salad potatoes.
Dr. Adrian Cunnington, Sutton Bridge, UK updated growers on efficient potato storage and where savings can be made. Dr. Cunnington told the conference; “Substantial energy savings can be made from increased attention to airflow through the potato storage boxes and correct setup of these boxes in the shed.”
Soil pest can be a problem for potato farmers and Dr. Shane Kennedy, Teagasc outlined how Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) can quickly build up in soils, and the measures farmers can take to deal with the problem on their farm. Dr. Kennedy told the conference; “Farmers need a long-term strategy including cultural control measures such as long rotation, resistant varieties and possibly using catch crops to prevent the build-up of PCN.”