Potatoes, have been a staple in the diets of Irishmen for centuries. A cheap, high nutrient crop, the potato is versatile in its uses such as feedstuffs and foodstuffs. Despite its influence in Ireland, the potato has also created devastation, which has cause the market to dwindle in the past.
The Great Famine in Ireland was caused by blight in potatoes and occurred during 1845-1852. In approximately 7 years, almost 1 million people either died or immigrated as result of the famine. In 1850 there were more Dubliners in New York City than in Dublin, Ireland. Almost every farmer in Ireland grew potatoes as it was a large staple in the diets of the Irish people. There are two different types of blight (Phytotoptheran infestans), one causing dry rot and the other causes curl both of which impede the growth of potatoes. The Irish farmers grew potatoes because of the high yield during the harvest. At the end of the famine, approximately 3/4 of the potato crop had failed. The cure for blight was eventually found in 1880.
Although the amount of potatoes grown in Ireland has dwindled it has remained a sustainable industry. The fear of blight and the exponential growth of other agronomic products has also contributed to the decrease in potatoes growers since 1850. We visited John and Jimmy Griffin of Griffins Potato Farm outside of Cork, Ireland. Griffins farms was first founded in 1940 and is operating under its 3rd generation. Operating on 200 acres, Griffins provides potatoes for a 150 km radius of their farm. They sell mostly to local shops and contract with Supervalu as well as other large supermarkets.
A few varieties grown by Griffins include: Kerr’s Pink, Queen’s, Golden Wonder, and Rooster (which is the most popular). These varieties are hybrids developed to achieve the best yielding potential. Average yield for their region of Cork is 16-20 tonnes per acre. The average price they have gotten is €300-400 per tonne, although last years average was considerably lower. Planting season begins with plowing and seedbed preparation in March, continuing through mid to late April. Using natural and artificial fertilizers and chemicals, the potatoes are intensively managed throughout the growing season which lasts until mid August. Their biggest concern is still battling blight, with modern chemicals applied by spraying, once a week. In addition to potato blight, granular insecticides are applied to battle pests such as slugs. The wet nature of Ireland inhibits the timely applications of insecticides and fungicides, so organizations supporting agriculture will provide advisories to farmers, days prior to necessary application.
Equipment on the farm includes: larger 150 horsepower tractors, a 2-row digger, cultivators, and planting/spraying equipment. The harvester digs potatoes from the ground separating the stalk and leaves from the potatoes themselves. Then deposits them on board into a storage crate by conveyor. The more popular varieties are then moved into an insulated storage area where they will be cooled and dried by computerize management system until the following summer. After sorting, the “bad” potatoes are used for cattle feed.
By processing, sorting, and packaging their own products, the Griffins are able to minimize costs and remain self-sustaining. This allows the Griffins to continually reinvest in their farm and promote the potato as a cheap source of nutrients for Ireland.
Written by: Shelbey Walker and Ben Seiler