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Potato crop hit by worst early season in 40 years

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THE Island’s potato growers are struggling through one of the worst seasons in 40 years – after heavy rain and then sub-zero temperatures delayed the planting of Jersey’s biggest agricultural export.

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However, the Jersey Royal Company says its UK competitors are facing the same problems, with other regional early potatoes having been wiped out by severe frost.

William Church, sales and marketing director at the company, says that like farmers throughout the British Isles, they were hit by the wet start to the year, and now the potatoes that have been planted are at risk from the extreme winter weather blowing across Europe from Siberia.

To help protect potatoes planted since the new year, farmers have been applying extra layers of protective fleece to the usual covering of plastic.

He said: ‘We are currently two weeks behind and the weather has been the biggest stumbling factor. We have double-covered a lot of fields to hopefully offer a bit of protection but we don’t yet know how much of the crop has been hit by the frost.

‘We can’t make any proper assessment until next week when we can check the fields. But it is likely that the potatoes planted at L’Etacq and covered with just a layer of plastic have been hit by the frost.’

Mr Church says such a significant delay in planting means there may not be enough Jersey Royals ready to meet the traditional peak in sales in the UK at the beginning of May. However, it is unlikely that British farmers will be able to step in and meet demand.

He said: ‘There is going to be delay for everything this year and farmers in Cornwall have also been struggling to get much in. We have a sister business in Cornwall and they say what has been planted so far by farmers there has been wiped out by frosts.’

Mr Church says they are keeping in regular contact with the retailers they supply in the UK, including major supermarket chains, who are already concerned about potential shortfall in supplies.

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St Ouen farmers Didier and Christine Hellio supply arable crops for the local market and export Jersey Royals to the UK through marketing group Albert Bartlett Jersey.

With almost four decades of farming experience first on her parents’ farm, Mrs Hellio is resigned to working with the forces of nature.

She said: ‘I have been working in the industry for probably 40 years and I don’t really know if I have ever seen a season like it. I love our farm and I love my profession but it has been really challenging this year – but that is just the way farming is.

‘I don’t think it is going to be a heavy crop, not after all the wet weather and now we have the challenge of the cold. It is certainly not going to be early.’

Paula Thelwell

By Paula Thelwell
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