Based in Cloon, Co Donegal, Jamie Rankin and his father, John, farm 300ac of potatoes and 300ac of cereals.
Cloon Potatoes has five full-time staff and employs seasonal workers during planting and harvesting. Jamie mentions that supplying to retailers such as Tesco and Country Crest provide assurance for his business.
“It was great to get those contracts again because it gives us a wee bit of certainty going forward that everyone needs in business,” he explains.
“It’s up to us to meet our targets and ensure quality for our crop, but we know that we are producing for a good market, and a market that is going to be there.”
Producing a good-quality crop
After studying agriculture in Edinburgh, Jamie returned home to farm.
“Ever since I was tiny, that’s all I wanted to do,” he recalls. “I wanted to be out and about and I have always enjoyed planting crops.
It’s great to see them getting out and about, understanding how nature works
“The fact that the crop is only four or five months in the ground means that it all happens very fast from planting through to harvest,” he explains.
“There’s always a certain reward in producing a good-quality crop and meeting your targets.”
Although they are still quite young, his two sons are also interested in the farm. “It’s great to see them getting out and about, understanding how nature works and how potatoes and grain are produced,” Jamie says.
With Donegal’s high average rainfall, Jamie says the key to good-quality potatoes is clean land and a good-quality seed.
“After that, it is attention to detail; getting the ground tilled well, destoned properly and you take it from there,” he says.
“We are lucky in the northwest as there’s a lot of livestock farming around. As part of our rotation, we’ve drained a lot of the ground so it’s nice and clean.
“What we’ve been able to achieve on a fairly consistent basis is getting that good-quality crop, a good colour – in Roosters, especially – and a good clean skin finish that supermarkets are looking for.”
He says that although they are not one of the highest-yielding areas in the country, they have a long and full growing season with plenty of moisture.
Stepping into spring
Jamie acknowledges how lucky he has been during the pandemic.
“I think farming in general has been fortunate,” he says. “We are so lucky in our industry to still have a job.
“Our lives haven’t changed that much day-to-day as we still get up every morning and go to work,” he continues. “We know how lucky we are and we appreciate it.”
He feels potatoes have increased in popularity in recent months.
“They don’t seem to be getting as much negative press which is great,” he says. “I think they were underappreciated for a long time.”
From a food-producer point of view, Jamie has recognised a shift in consumer trends over the last year.
We’re very busy, but it’s a step out of winter
“They’ve been made to think about where their food is coming from and what their neighbours are doing to provide the food on their plate."
Jamie says he is enjoying work as spring approaches.
“We’re hitting a few spots for airlifts to bring the harvest forward a bit and the soil samples are all done.
“We’re looking forward to planting, it’s great to see a stretch in the day and getting out and about again. We’re very busy, but it’s a step out of winter,” he adds.
Understanding your market
Jamie acknowledges that growing potatoes is a specialised trade and he would advise people to do their homework before considering growing.
“You shouldn’t put a crop in the ground unless you have somebody to buy it,” he says.
“There is no point in producing a crop you can’t sell. I think that’s always a starting point – speak to your market, see what they want and go from there.”
While business has been prosperous overall, like many farmers, Jamie is unsure about how Brexit will affect his business.
“Our seed can’t come in from the UK anymore so we had to be more organised this year and got everything in before the first of January."
Jamie understands the pitfalls of producing seed. “We went away from that market to produce potatoes because it was more reliable,” he explains.
“Potatoes have worked better for us, so I don’t see us going back down the seed route again,” he concludes.
The Rankin Family’s story is one of many ‘Food Love Stories’ from Irish suppliers who create the highest-quality produce for Tesco Ireland, in partnership with Country Crest from north Dublin.