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First it was too wet – now it’s too dry for potato growers...

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A LITTLE over a month ago farmers were unable to plant crops as the land was waterlogged... but the recent dry spell has brought its own set of problems.

Irrigation in a field in Grouville

The lack of rain, combined with northerly winds which make soil dry out even more, has forced some potato growers to start irrigating, so that they can get Jersey Royals out of the ground in good condition to export to the UK.

Jersey Farmers Union president Peter Le Maistre’s staff were busy laying irrigation pipes this week to fields around the family farm, Les Prés Manor in Grouville.

‘We could really do with a bit of rain. Everything, including the potatoes, is still running a bit late because of the conditions over the winter.

‘The Jersey Royal crop is still about two weeks behind but it is coming on, and it’s good considering the conditions we’ve had over the winter,’ he said. The lateness of the 2018 season is not only due to persistent rainfall from September to April, but also because of the Beast from the East cold snap.

Heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures caused havoc across the British Isles from late February to the end of March and put crops – especially new potatoes like the Jersey Royal – back by weeks.

Even in a small place like Jersey, different soil types, topography, the location of fields and prevailing weather conditions mean that some areas dry out quicker than others.

William Church, marketing director at the Island’s biggest potato producer, The Jersey Royal Company, says they are not having to resort to irrigation yet – but the subject has been discussed.

‘Things have improved massively over the past two weeks which is amazing,’ he said.

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‘We are still behind where we would expect to be at this time of the year, but the situation has improved. Where there is a level of moisture in the land, and you get a bit of dry and warm weather, potatoes grow like billy-o.’

While yields are down, growers are confident of increasing exports throughout June.

They are also hoping to capitalise on the lateness of this year’s crop by extending the season into July to meet demand for new-season potatoes which are generally in short supply in the UK.

Paula Thelwell

By Paula Thelwell
author

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