“We have to get the basics right”

Wilson's Country managing director, Lewis Cunningham (left) with Kyle Greer, head chef at Belfast's Europa Hotel.

Wilson’s Country Managing Director, Lewis Cunningham, has fully embraced International Potato Day campaign, while highlighting where better industry focus is needed.

MORE joined-up thinking is needed to make sustainability in Northern Ireland’s potato sector a priority while the need to improve public perception has taken a step in the right direction, according to the MD at Wilson’s Country, a major supplier in the country.

Wilson’s Country Managing Director, Lewis Cunningham, believes securing higher levels of sustainability across the entire agricultural sector, including potatoes, should be a priority, but said there needs to be more streamlining in how this is achieved.

“We have to get the basics right and this means coming up with a single carbon footprint model and calculator that fits all farm scenario across the UK and Ireland. We don’t have this at the moment. As a result, growers are receiving mixed messages where these critically important matters are concerned,” he said.

Wilson’s Country recently joined in the International Potato Day campaign, taking advantage of the date to highlight the benefits offered by the vegetable and what goes into its production.

He said planting of this year’s main season potato crops in Ireland is nearing completion

 “The recent spell of good weather has helped the cause of growers. Across the island of Ireland, the vast majority of crops are now in the ground. Early indications are that the acreages planted out are slightly up, year-on-year,” said Lewis.

June is always a very busy month for the country’s potato producers and New season Comber will be widely available in the shops in coming weeks. Lewis said these crops have benefitted from the upturn in the weather.

“After that it’s a case of getting on with the main crop harvest. The first set-skin potatoes of the year, mainly Piper and Osprey, will be coming out of the Carlingford area of County Louth at the end of July and early August,” he said. “Once we get in to September, the first of the main crops grown in Northern Ireland will be ready for digging. Obviously, all of this is totally weather dependent.”

He said market scenarios are currently mixed.

 “Retail pack sales remain very strong. However, in contrast, sales of potatoes into the catering sector are faltering at the present time. This trend reflects the impact created by the continuing cost-of-living crisis,” said Lewis.

“Consumers are happy to treat themselves at home, hence the strength in retail potato sales. However, it remains a concern that many restaurants across Northern Ireland no longer open during the early days of the week at all.

“This reality has impacted on the catering sector across the board.”

The International Potato Day initiative, developed by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), will be an annual event and Lewis said it’s high time the benefits of the humble vegetable are given more public recognition.

“The potato is the world’s most versatile vegetable, grown in 159 countries. It takes less water to grow a crop of potatoes than is the case with any comparable, staple food crop, including rice and pasta,” he said. “Rice required 1,111L of water to produce one kilo or rice. The comparable figure for potatoes is 200L. These are UNESCO figures.”

He added: “More must be done to market and promote the nutritional value of potatoes here in Northern Ireland. From a nutrition delivery and versatility perspective, they cannot be matched.

“Potatoes can be boiled, roasted, chipped. In fact, they can be cooked in every possible way. Potatoes can also be included in starters, main courses and desserts.

“In reality, the humble spud is a nugget of gold within the world of human nutrition.” 

British Potato Review
Potato Review reports on new developments in all areas of crop production, storage, handling and packing, as well as scientific, technological and machinery innovations in the UK and overseas. We also keep readers abreast of consumer trends and legislation changes impacting on the industry.
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