Farmer Focus: Complete disconnect in potato supply chain

Happy New Year everyone.

Hopefully 2021 will allow Covid and Brexit to die off into the history books.

Covid is still a huge issue, of course, but Brexit is done and here in Northern Ireland (NI) I see this as a great opportunity in agriculture to have the best of both worlds.

In the short term I’m sure there will be some hard times but, if you go into 2021 and beyond with your eyes open and brain engaged, I think there will be many opportunities.

See also: Growers to vote in early 2021 on future of AHDB potato levy

Brexit has highlighted the complete disconnect in the supply chain, with processors often shafting the farmer. None more so than in the potato sector.

I find it outrageous and unacceptable when certain companies “reveal” in the media that NI farmers do not know how to produce good potatoes.

There is no denying that English pipers are great potatoes and I have no issue importing the extra required to meet demand, but NI farmers produce some of the best potatoes in the world.

However, processors can buy them cheaper in bulk from outside NI – and money talks.

To ridicule a sector just to maintain your business is not acceptable. We use our own home-grown potatoes all year round in our restaurant without any issues, as do many independent chip shops that work with local farmers.

Grain is similar. Larger mills would rather buy a boatload of grain from a former rainforest halfway around the world than from their local farmer, who coincidentally supports those mills all year round buying stock and animal feed.

Add in all the talk of reducing carbon footprint… surely these businesses should be looking to source local as a first option, every time?

I welcome Daera’s announcement on a protein payment. Hopefully this will encourage farmers to grow an area large enough to allow mills to include this locally grown protein in their feed ration. 

As part of an AHDB study, we are currently collating all the data required to produce an accurate figure for our own farm carbon footprint. Without a starting figure it is very hard to know which areas need the biggest improvement, or to measure improvement in other areas over time. The data should help us guide farmers at our monitor farm meetings, so I await its outcome with interest.

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