Irlanda: The Irish potato market: Finding market stability in a changing world
As the potato harvesting season gets underway, many growers are faced with decisions around their new season crops.
Growers are being impacted by the knock-on effects of external Global and European factors, with the war in Ukraine and climate change among the big issues impacting all farming.
Potato farms have experienced significant rises in costs (inputs, storage, labour etc.) and challenges around labour availability and seed availability (due to Brexit), all which have impacted their production cost base.
Stronger consumer demand and perception of value for money could bring increased demand for potatoes this year in an inflationary environment.
Finding market stability in this dynamic cost environment needs to be this season’s ambition for fresh market potato producers and packers.
In this article by Lorcan Bourke, fresh produce and potato manager for Bord Bia, he discusses the dynamics of the fresh potato market in Ireland that has shown renewed growth in recent years, peaked in the pandemic market of 2020-2021, but now faces readjustments and new challenges.
National Potato Day 2022
October 7, is National Potato Day, which is an annual celebration of the potato in Irish culture organised by Bord Bia.
In 2022, the theme for National Potato Day will be the versatility and value for money that potatoes deliver to people, proving the old Irish truism, that ‘once a bag of potatoes is in the house, there’s a meal in the home’.
The production base
Year 2019 2020 2021
Production (t) 336,095 294,370 365,375
Total value (€) 110,911 82,424 116,920
Area planted 8,043 8,614 8,695*
Estimated farmgate production values (DAFM). * maincrop area 7,995ha
Production in the sector is focused around a dozen or so central intake points for large-scale grading and packing of potatoes in Ireland, with the majority of these focusing on supplying the major retail supermarkets and foodservice channels.
Other intake points support crisp manufacturing and the chipping trade.
The early potato market is another distinct market restricted to growers with ‘early land’ and milder climates. Table 1 (above) illustrates that the area of potatoes planted in the past few years has been constant, largely finding its own level with steady market demand.
Potato variety is a key determinant of potato yields and growers in Ireland focus on growing mainly relatively high-dry-matter varieties for the fresh market / Irish consumer.
Growers can best achieve high yields through a combination of good seed and soil selection, together with the best applied science-based agronomy.
Weather variability has become a major determinant on crop success in recent years. The summer of 2022 will be remembered as a drought year, a year crops needed irrigation or were ‘held back’ in their yield potential.
Early crop predictions by Teagasc suggest yields are back in 2022 compared with 2021. Rooster has become the dominant variety for the production and packing of fresh table-ware potatoes representing around 59% of plantings at farm level, according to the 2021 annual Irish Farmers’ Association survey.
The Bord Bia/Teagasc annual potato yield digs will be commencing shortly and will provide an estimate this autumn of what the production levels are this year.
Year 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Kerr’s Pink 14.15 14.35 15.28 14.94 14.97 11.48 14.13 11.37 15.97
Rooster 14.83 16.53 18.44 17.38 19.48 13.42 18.53 14.64 19.66
National potato yields (2013-2021) in t/ac. Source: Bord Bia/Teagasc annual potato yield digs
The consumer market
Source: Kantar Worldpanel (in-home survey of 5,000 Irish households)
Potatoes are Ireland’s number one and main meal carbohydrate. Household spend on fresh potatoes in Ireland is currently valued at €232 million annually, with 220,000t being purchased.
The market experienced continuous decline from the millennium year to a low point in the 2012-2013 season. This was followed by a significant rise in market demand on the back of two industry/EU-funded consumer promotion campaigns, while achieving a Covid-19 market peak in the 2020-21 season, when people were restricted to home and foodservice was shut down.
Since lockdown was lifted there has been a return to ‘normal’ purchase patterns by consumers. Potato demand since late 2021 has been reduced but remains above 2019 (pre-Covid-19 levels).
Roosters remain the most popular potato variety bought by Irish households representing around 65% of sales in any given year.
According to Kantar Worldpanel, Rooster sales dropped from 161,214t in 2021 to an estimated 140,395t in 2022, a market re-adjustment post-Covid-19 (and as part of this re-adjustment in the same period the retail potato market contracted by approximately 10%).
Market growth since the turn of the millennium has been hard fought for by the sector by improving consumer’s perception of potatoes.
Bord Bia-run EU campaigns have sought to change perceptions around carbohydrates, the versatility / benefits of potatoes and their extended usage, making them a ‘must buy’ item to keep in stock in modern Irish kitchens, as a basis for any meal occasion.
Many recipes promoted in these campaigns are created to tie in with more modern and less traditional cooking tastes and convenient dishes e.g. curries, stir-fries etc.
To find out more about National Potato Day, click here.
To find out more about Bord Bia, click here.