IFA President John Bryan has been in contact with the five major retailers – Tesco, Dunnes, Musgrave, Aldi and Lidl – seeking immediate action from them to address the crisis in the potato sector.
John Bryan said, “Potato prices to producers are at historic lows, and if growers are to remain in business, retailers and merchants must return a viable price. Farmers are currently getting average farm-gate prices which are far below the cost of production, while consumer prices are over three times the producer level. This is totally inequitable and needs to be addressed immediately, if retailers want the security of supply of Irish potatoes available to the Irish consumer.”
At a meeting of over 100 potato growers last week, growers voiced anger and desperation at the situation they find themselves in and challenged retailers and merchants/packers to ensure that primary producers are treated fairly. IFA conducted a detailed survey of the tonnage in store, with the findings clearly showing that there will not be a surplus of potatoes this season. With seven months to the next harvest, almost 60% of this year’s crop has now been sold.
After a season of over production in 2010, which resulted in the export of close to 70,000 tonnes, Irish potato growers made a conscious business decision to reduce the national planted acreage by up to 13%. Growing conditions in 2011 were favourable with higher than normal yields and this created a short term over supply in the industry. However, Irish potato production in 2011 was still down by an estimated 60,000 tonnes on 2010 production, which supports the survey’s findings that the current market is more in balance than in oversupply.
The IFA President said the enforced below-cost selling of potatoes off-farm is not a sustainable practice, as producers’ livelihoods will be destroyed. “As a major player in the Irish retail sector – a sector which sells up to 60% of fresh potatoes grown in Ireland – supermarkets have substantial influence in the market place. Retailers, as key stakeholders in the food supply chain, have a responsibility to growers and to the future of the potato industry in this country.”