Jersey Royals: ‘Most challenging season in memory’

THE Jersey Royal planting and growing season has been the “most challenging” and “wettest” in living memory, according to Island farmers as harvesting gets under way this month.

Jersey Farmers’ Union president Dougie Richardson said that already-strained farmers could not “risk having a bad season” – and that the impact of adverse weather on this year’s exports was still unknown.

Figures from Jersey Met showed that February – the month where most Royals are planted – had a total of 139.7 millimetres of rain, compared with the 30-year average figure of 78.4mm. And the wet weather persisted into the first week of March.

Meanwhile, farmers in the UK have warned of a potential crisis as record rainfall reduces food production.

Mr Richardson explained to the JEP that heavy rain had forced growers to adapt, planting by hand and in shallower soil depths, which was more costly and time-consuming.

He said: “It’s been the most challenging planting season in, probably ever, but certainly in living memory. Farming is challenging enough at the best of times, but this season has been very, very challenging.

“The rain just hasn’t stopped, and it’s been coming down in volumes – and it has been perfectly timed to cause maximum disruption.”

He added that some who had been waiting for the weather to improve had only just finished their planting and covering the fields in polythene.

Mr Richardson continued: “This is potentially going to impact harvesting, but we are aiming for a slow start so that we don’t get ahead of ourselves. But it’s all to play for, if the weather is kind to us going forward, and there’s no reason not to lift some nice potatoes consistently with some sunshine soon.

“We can’t risk having a bad season, because everything is so expensive – and we seem to be constantly burdened with more paperwork and compliance.

“But in terms of farming the land and facing challenges, there isn’t a group of farmers better than the Jersey farmers to deal with it.”

Islanders can expect to see farmers hard at work on the harvest from this month, with peak volumes through May and June until the end of July.

Tim Ward, business unit director of potato supplier Albert Bartlett, which recently bought The Jersey Royal Company, said that the weather could result in a prolonged season as farmers spent time earlier in the year waiting for fields to dry out before planting.

He said: “It’s undoubtedly been one of the wettest planting seasons we can ever remember, which is more than a little bit frustrating.

“We had delayed crop going into the ground that should have been in a few weeks before, and we’re worried about the impact that’s going to have on our harvestable yield – and we’re worried that some of the early crop has been sat in water.”

Mr Ward continued: “It’s particularly important right now to have a good season, and we just need a little bit of luck now.

“It’s been incredibly frustrating, everyone has hair loss because of it, we need some sunshine for now, a little bit of heat to get the maximum out of what’s already in the ground.”

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