Donegal seed potato farmer sees Brexit grow business
Charlie Doherty has already sold out of this year’s stock and plans to expand
Potato farmer Charlie Doherty on his farm in Burt, Co Donegal. Photograph: Joe Dunne
Brexit has brought “great opportunities” for Irish seed potato growers, according to a Co Donegal farmer.
“I’ve already had more than twice as many inquiries,” he said, “and of course I’ve rung my normal buyers; they look after me so I would look after them.
“[Last year] I did actually plant a little more seed, which is a bit of a risk, but I anticipated so I had a bit extra, and I’m sold out already. In a normal year I wouldn’t be sold out until April.”
The majority of seed potatoes used in Ireland are grown in Scotland. However, because of Brexit, seed potatoes can no longer be imported to European Union countries from the UK due to phytosanitary regulations.
The UK government is in negotiations with the EU to try and resolve this, but in the meantime, Irish seed potato growers such as Mr Doherty have seen the demand for their product increase.
Donegal is the centre of Ireland’s small seed potato industry. The product must be grown in northerly climes where the extra wind and rain protects it from parasites.
Looking to the future, much depends on the outcome of the UK’s negotiations with the EU, and the timing of any deal. Many Irish potato growers anticipated the end of the Brexit transition period and imported their seed before January 1st.
If farmers in Britain can resume exports before the planting season begins, the situation is expected to largely return to normal. If not, the Donegal seed potato farmers could again see their product in high demand.
“If they don’t make a deal before springtime, is the Scotch guy going to grow the seed hoping they’ll pass this rule and then they [the seeds farmers] can sell it? Because if they don’t, they’ll be left with product they can’t sell,” said Mr Doherty.
Last spring, he raised his production by about 30 per cent, and intends to add another 50 per cent this year. His acreage has increased from 25 to 35 acres, and is likely to go as high as 60 acres this year.
“I will be upping my production again for this year coming in but I’m not going to go mad, I’ll only go with what I’m fairly sure I can sell,” he said.
“Within the farming community we’re probably the only ones who are going to make out of this.”