The need to secure steady supplies of domestically-produced seed potatoes for future planting seasons was a much-discussed topic among Irish farmer and stakeholder attendees at the World Potato Congress held in the RDS this week.

Growers have become reliant on seed potato stocks imported from Scotland in recent decades, which has left a gap in supplies threatened with the ending of the Brexit transition period on 1 January 2021.

However, policymakers’ commitments to rebooting the domestic seed industry are beginning to see progress and receive Government funding, the president of the Irish Potato Federation, Michael Hoey, told the Irish Farmers Journal at the event.

“We have challenges in the growing sector in our seed situation. We have been locked out from buying seed from Scotland, where we were getting our top-grade seed and that is an issue,” stated Hoey.

“We became lazy as seed producers and I know it has been something the minister has been good at, revamping that industry.

“It is going to take six to eight years to get it back up and running again,” he said.

The Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue told the congress that there remains an untapped opportunity for the Irish seed potato sector to fill supplies.

“Considering that we are the only EU member state with high-grade status for seed potato production, there is huge potential for development of the seed potato sector,” said Minister McConalogue.

The Government’s special envoy on food systems, Tom Arnold, told the Irish Farmers Journal that a “systematic and longer-term view” of the seed potato issue would be needed to ensure a sustainable potato sector into the future.

Rather than simply seeking to find a short-term solution and seek arrangements allowing the continuation of seed potato imports post-Brexit, we should look to address the problem “here in Ireland”, argued Arnold at the congress.

“We had a very healthy seed potato industry in the past and we need to get back to a very healthy seed potato industry – a domestic one – in the future,” he commented.