Irish farmers’ ability to grow their potato crops could be affected by the post-Brexit ban on importing seed potatoes from Britain, the Government has been warned.
In a letter to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, Scottish seed potato producer John K Lind asked if politicians have "forgotten" the Famine as he outlined the devastation that diseases can cause to a crop.
In the absence of a major domestic seed potato industry here, Irish farmers have traditionally sourced much of the seed potatoes they use from Scotland. The climate there aids the growth of disease-free seed potatoes.
Brexit means that seed potatoes can no longer be exported from Britain to the European Union as phytosanitary regulations are not aligned.
There has been concern among Irish farmers that bringing in more continental seed potatoes increases the risk of importing diseases such as brown rot, which present in some European countries.
Mr Lind, a partner at J&WF Lind in Aberdeenshire, wrote to Mr McConalogue to raise his concern at the situation.
He said the company was a high-grade producer in Scotland that provided the seed potatoes for “predominant table varieties used in Ireland” like British Queen, Record, Kerr’s Pink and Golden Wonder.
Writing at the end of September, Mr Lind said these varieties “are currently in the ground, as they were already in the pipeline for distribution in Ireland”.
He said the company took a risk in doing this and it stands to make a loss on the crop.
Mr Lind added: “The cost to us of the one-year loss that we will incur this year will be small compared to the collective losses possibly accrued by the Irish growers over the following four years.” Four years is the approximate lead-in time for developing a seed potato crop.
He calls the prohibition on British seed potatoes in the EU “a weak decision, especially as Irish politicians sit at the European table setting important strategy”.
Mr Lind wrote: “It seems incredible that politicians could choose to act politically instead of practically, considering the importance of potatoes, being the staple of the Irish population’s diet.
“The Irish potato industry would not be looking for solutions to get around the regulations if there was not a need to secure clean seed,” he added.
Mr Lind wrote: “Have the politicians forgotten (or are ignoring) one of the biggest impact life events of Irish history – the Potato Famine?”
He said: “Viruses can devastate yields and quality, just as blight did then. This is possibly even riskier when you consider the possible effects of climate change.”
He asked: “Are the politicians ready to take responsibility for the consequences of losses in the Irish domestic potato supply?”
Mr Lind expressed a hope that his letter helps the Minister to “make an informed contribution at the European top table”.
Minister of State for Agriculture Pippa Hackett replied to Mr Lind's letter last month.
She said the Department of Agriculture is “acutely aware of the need of the Irish Potato Industry to access high-grade seed potato material from GB/Scotland”.
She said Ireland has "repeatedly requested the EU to allow for a temporary derogation to facilitate the import of such seed material from Great Britain in the interest of our own potato industry.
“However, the EU has not granted this in the absence of a commitment from the UK on dynamic alignment with EU phytosanitary rules.”
She added: “Notwithstanding the above, in the interest of the Irish potato industry, Ireland continues to engage with the EU Commission and other member states in relation to the current barriers on imports of GB seed potato material to the Irish and EU market.”