21 September 2001


Profiting from potatoes in Eire is the goal for former Farmer

Focus writer and Northern Ireland barometer farmer

Brian Hammond. Andrew Swallow reports on his role

in an expanding potato enterprise

WHEN it comes to profiting from potatoes, growing on the right ground for pre-determined markets is the secret, according to one leading Irish grower.

Brian Hammond grows 200ha (500 acres) of potatoes at Killberry Farms, near Navan, County Meath. Two-thirds of the land is rented on one to five year deals and 90% of the crop is grown for pre-arranged markets.

"The quality of the land is the most important thing. Take on the wrong land, even for free, and you will lose money. But take on the right ground, plant good seed and with a little luck youll be on to a winner, even in a bad year," he says.

Next priority is securing markets, especially for crisping crops. "The crisping market is well tied up. Youd be mad to grow a crisping variety without a contract." Crispers Lady Rosetta and Saturna make up a fifth of the farms crop on contract at I£120/t plus haulage and storage this year.

A further 40ha (100 acres) are grown on chipping contracts, and 100ha (250 acres) for pre-packers. Only 20ha (50 acres) is grown without a pre-arranged outlet.

"Contracts are a big advantage. The traditional bag trade both here and in Northern Ireland is disappearing like snow over a ditch."

Todays mix of markets and contracts for the crop at Killberry is a stark contrast to when he arrived on the farm in Jan 2000, he recalls.

Then, the farm had 5000t of potatoes in store unspoken for due to the take-over and subsequent closure of its main outlet, a local chipping factory.

"Somehow we had to turn them into money, which wasnt made any easier by some poor samples and a depressed market. I am still not sure how we did it, but by grading hard we got them all away, with only a few ending up as stockfeed."

Despite having once grown up to 400ha (1000 acres) of potatoes and 800ha (2000 acres) of cereals, going out of potatoes completely was a possibility.

But with the staff and equipment to grow the crop Mr Hammond set about re-building the growing business for new markets. Only 60ha (140 acres) were planted in 2000 due to limited time to secure land and outlets. That has tripled to this years area.

In the meantime extra income flows have been developed, such as contract storage of other growers crops.

"Last year we took 1500t of potatoes into store from 11 different growers," he comments. To continue that business alongside the farms own requirement a new 3500t grain store is going up alongside the current 5000t of space, two-thirds of which is refrigerated potato storage.

Haulage and storage of other commodities in other yards has added to income, and now the farm runs two balers and a straw merchanting operation. A third of gross income will come from non-cropping activities in the year to Jun 2002, he estimates.

"And the profit margin on that business is better than with the crops."

Taking on the management of such a business presented a big challenge, but also an opportunity, says Mr Hammond.

"If you take on a business where everything is running really well you can only go wrong. Here at least there were ways to turn things round."

Contacts built up growing potatoes north of the border have been put to good use and in the south there are far more buyers for the crop, he notes.

"The opportunities here are 10 times better than in the north – not just for potatoes, but for any business," he concludes. &#42


&#8226 200ha owned, 400ha rented.

&#8226 One third potatoes, rest cereals.

&#8226 Crisping, chipping, pre-packing and peeling outlets.

&#8226 Substantial non-cropping income.


Annual rainfall at Killberry is roughly 1000mm (39 in). But that is irregular and cannot be relied on to grow quality crops, says Mr Hammond. Irrigation is available to water about a third of the crop at tuber initiation and that may be increased. "This year I have got some lovely crops round the yard which have needed no water but 15 miles away we have had to put on five inches/acre." No licences are needed. "People just throw the hose in the river and start pumping until somebody complains. But that will not last. Theyll bring in legislation soon I reckon."

Securing outlets before planting is a key part of Brian Hammonds strategy with potatoes at Killberry Farms, near Navan in Ireland. These Lady Rosetta are on contract for crisping.

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