Galway potato growers facing financial ruin after severe weather

Government aid urgently needed to keep farmers in business

Potato growers and other farmers throughout Galway who are facing financial ruin in the wake of the flooding and more recent cold spell are now calling on the Government to urgently provide assistance to save them from going out of business.

The Irish Farmers’ Association recently warned that nationally 30 per cent of crops in 6,000 acres remains unharvested because of the torrential rain in November and December followed by the ‘Big Freeze’. The IFA says that an estimated 20 per cent of the potatoes will not be recovered, and this will mean a loss to the country’s growers of more than €15 million.

Local pototo grower and supplier Joe Cleary knows all too well the effects that the severe weather has had on his own business, and says that for many growers and farmers in the Galway area, and nationally, there have been “savage losses” incurred.

“I grow 200 acres of potatoes which has been severely affected by a very wet Autumn. October and November is when the harvesting is usually done. There was €120,000 worth of produce left in the ground but it couldn’t be harvested because the ground was too wet. At Christmas we still couldn’t go in because it was all frozen. It was all destroyed. I am just one of 130 potato growers in the country. Some have lost nearly €1 million. I am fighting for the growers in Ireland, we are in severe trouble,” he said.

Mr Cleary, who runs a farm near Portumna and supplies 600 tonnes of produce to the local Galway and Mayo markets, further explained, “without Government rescue we are facing financial ruin”. He said that many growers have no hope of commencing planting in March as they will now struggle to pay land bills, and to purchase new seed and fertilizer.

“It’s been one scenario after another. As a whole there are a lot of growers that are going to go out of business, and the country will see an increase in imports while the exports get smaller and the Government will be hit in the long term. There will also be problems with supply on the shelves at the latter end of the season. Government intervention is now a priority,” said Mr Cleary.

IFA county chairman for Galway, Barry Donnelly, also expressed fears that farmers are going out of business as they have been hit by one disaster after another.

“There was a severe frost that went deeper into the ground than in previous years and it lasted for a prolonged length of time. Every sector was hit extremely bad. This is compounded by the prices for commodities which are at the lowest levels they have been for years. The farmer won’t be able to sustain this. The market is going to have to return a price for all products that will help recoup some of the losses for 2009.”

Mr Donnelly said that the while Department of Agriculture has given funding for fodder damaged by the flooding in November there has been nothing for crops.

“We’re looking for the Department to realise the losses in all sectors. If nothing is done farmers are going to go out of business. They can’t keep producing at a loss. The banks will only stand by you for so long. There are those with borrowings, and the bills are mounting up. The market also needs to give a decent price for products. At the moment farmers are not getting the returns. We’re looking for legislation that will compel the markets to pay prices that will cover the cost of production.”


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