To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food her plans to improve the incomes of potato farmers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. – David Stanton.
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: (Mary Coughlan)
Potato production in Ireland is mainly focused on the fresh ware market serving domestic consumption. Investment in storage facilities has resulted in the availability of quality ware potatoes for almost the entire year. At retail level there have also been major changes over the last decade with the multiples exacting major influence on the market. Buying power is now concentrated in the hands of 5-6 retail multiples who control about 70% of the ware market and these multiples have largely consolidated their supply base in potato merchants who in turn are mainly serviced by large specialist growers. This has brought about a tighter supply base and provided for greater controls on traceability, quality and food safety.
My Department operates the Scheme of Investment Aid for the development of the potato sector. The current scheme is focused on the seed producers sector. It is aimed at improving the production and marketing infrastructure of seed through investments in equipment and facilities for the production, storage and marketing of seed potatoes. The overall aim is to develop a competitive seed sector with strong linkages to ware growers to ensure that the potato industry continues to grow to its full potential.
Under the NDP, my Department has provided grants totalling €2.65m to 80 applicants over the period 2000- 2007, to cover investments of some €7.57m. This aid was paid for a range of potato equipment and storage facilities. A further €1m has been now been approved in grant aid to 18 applicants under the scheme which will be paid out in 2008. There is provision of €1m per year for this scheme under the new National Development Plan 2007 – 2013.
In addition, under the Department’s Capital Investment Scheme for the Marketing and Processing of Certain Agricultural Products (funded under the National Development Plan 2000 – 2006) the potato sector was awarded total grant aid of €8.2 million in respect of 24 undertakings. Total project expenditure amounted to €20.4 million. These potato grant awards have assisted in the development of the sector and have resulted in the significant of upgrading of the storage, handling and marketing facilities in the enterprises concerned.
In recent months I have become aware that there has been an over supply of potatoes on the market because of high yields in the 2007 crop, which in turn has extended downward pressure on ware potato prices. This position has coincided with some increase in the area of potatoes grown in recent years and a 14% fall in consumption in potatoes.
For further information contact: David Stanton, TD,
Constituency Office, 29 St Mary’s Road, Midleton, Co. Cork. Tel: 021 4632867, Fax: 021 4621133