Friday, January 27, 2012

Can we save our spuds?

The Irish spud is in a bit of a crisis. Sales are declining and Irish farmers say this season they are selling potatoes below the cost of production. Like all commodity producers, potatoes are victims of the marketplace and as Ireland had high yields this year (the crop was very good) there is over supply. Over supply leads to a depressed price, and a very unfortunate situation for farmers who are growing a vegetable that they are ultimately forced to sell at a loss.
Yet many of us still cook potatoes, just less of them. And one of the main reasons in their decline is that we have replaced our staple carbohydrate with newer, glossier contenders - rice, pasta, noodles and even bread. We also import some potatoes, and have turned away from some of the traditional Irish varieties. Tomorrow I'll be on RTE radio discussing this issue and why as consumers are leaving the potato behind.
Or are we? If you're a champion of the potato and use it in inventive and new ways drop me a comment - it's worth keeping in mind that per gram they have still less fat than pasta and rice and are a super-healthy unprocessed food. And also, in the main, Irish. Have a listen to the programme if you're up and about at 8am or catch it on a podcast afterwards from And let me know your spud views!


  1. Hi Suzanne,

    yes, it's a very important issue.

    On the consumption side, let's have one word: "boxty"! OK, two words: "colcannon, champ". Another three: "sliced on... pizzas". And more... "in fishcakes, gnocchi, as pie toppings."

    As carbs go, spuds are great, incredibly versatile, and the bad press about chips or fries from fast-food joints (though nothing wrong with chips in moderation) overshadows al this.

    On the production and distribution side, I feel for Irish farmers. It's completely mad that we've reached a situation that an Irish food staple is no longer economical to produce here, as mad as the garlic in our supermarkets all the way from China (and, no offence to China, not particularly tasty garlic at that), or how a sheep's fleece is "worthless"

  2. The figures for how much these potato growers are selling for is quite shocking. I do actually use a good few potatoes. Even when I'm making a pasta/rice/noodle dish I still cook potatoes every day as my Dad wouldn't consider that he had dinner if not for a few spuds! I love their versatility - wedges, loaded potato skins, colcannon, potato cakes, potato stuffing and in Spanish tortillas are among my favourite ways to cook with potatoes. I think it's wonderful to see two Irish companies{O'Donnell's and Keogh's} now making artisan crisps. They are both of great quality so I wonder will it take something like this, or other innovative ideas, from other Irish potato growers to keep them afloat?

  3. Good to hear from two potato fans! I think if you cook at all then you know potatoes are versatile and nutritious. The problem is that for younger people, research shows they think potatoes are inconvenient to cook, and so opt for pasta, rice etc (the overpowering force of the Koka noodle!). Also the younger demographic are more travelled, lived in Oz etc so have no problem rustling up a thai green curry with noodles as opposed to roast spuds. But the key problem is that commodity producers can be pushed to the limit on price as there is no supermarket ombudsman or protection for primary producers. Unless we get this in place the problem will remain - this year its potatoes but next year what - carrots? Pork? It's just the same revolving story. Great to hear your input x

  4. Well, I think you probably already know that I'm a champion of the spud Suzanne :) Listened in on Saturday and I think the most important points are (1) what you mention in the comment about re: having a supermarket ombudsman and some measure of equitable pricing for primary producers and (2) more innovative marketing and promotion of spuds - there is a *lot* more creativity that could be applied on that front than currently is in this country, I reckon

  5. Guilty as charged. We eat less potatoes for sure and actually tend to only eat the ones we grow ourselves. Our kids like potatoes - any way they get them - but we eat a very balanced diet so the old spud only sees its way on to the plate once a week or less. There are a lot more options out there and I fear that convenience (and a touch of laziness) is at the heart of the problem Suzanne. Rice, pasta, cous cous, take little effort to prepare and there is no messing with the washing or peeling either. The worry, of course, is that this will happen to a lot of our fabulous products and we will all be left with cheap imported goods to dine on because we are nto supporting the growers in our own backyard. What do we have to do to get an 'Ombudsman'? Can you start the ball rolling? Should we get a petition signed?

  6. I was very interested to hear your interview on Saturday. I agree with Aoife that a lot more could be done with the marketing front. The potato suffers from an image problem at the moment, being seen as old fashioned 'old people' food and taking too long to cook.

    A supermarket ombudsman is essential and not just for potatoes, the supermarkets have become far too powerful and people are only starting to realize and react against how they operate. This is an ideal time to capitalize on that realization.

  7. Great to hear all your comments and engagement with this issue. In a way Mona, we shouldn't feel guilty - pasta, cous cous etc are versatiile alternatives but the problem I think is that we sat back in Ireland and expected younger people to have the same dietary habits as previous generations. now its getting late to capture them again, but it can be done! I certainly don't eat potatoes every day, in fact, probably only 3 or 4 times a week. And yes I probably am a little tardy in getting to grips with new ways of cooking and serving them. Need more imagination in my cooking!