‘It’s like sitting on an island in the Canaries’: Limerick vegetable grower

Donal O'Regan

Reporter:

Donal O'Regan

Spuds won’t be boiling: Chris Enright, Kilcornan, with some of his paltry potato crop Picture: Michael Cowhey

Spuds won’t be boiling: Chris Enright, Kilcornan, with some of his paltry potato crop Picture: Michael Cowhey

THE PROLONGED drought is having devastating consequences for Irish field vegetable producers, say the IFA.

A new Teagasc report, which quantifies the impact of the continuing drought , concludes that at best, “growers have significant yield reductions while in other situations entire crops have perished”.

The good news is that Met Eireann predicts rain will affect all areas on Friday with appreciable amounts expected widely. The bad news is that the weekend will be fine and signs are for the warm and essentially dry weather to prevail into next week.

Like all vegetable growers, Chris Enright, in Kilcornan, is struggling to keep his crops alive. On four acres – two are devoted to potatoes with pumpkins, kale and other vegetables grown on the rest

Chris is only half joking when he says: “I know some days it has rained in Pallas or Ballysteen and I have nearly sat here crying. It’s gotten really localised, it’s gotten ridiculous at this stage.”

When he looks out at his land what does he see?

“Number one, everything is brown. The forty shades of green has gone, it’s now the 40 shades of brown, everything is burnt. It’s like sitting on an island in the Canaries. I've dug a few tests on my Swift potatoes.  They should be the size of hens’ eggs this week. They are like marbles and that's after 13 weeks,” said Chris, who also plants queens, maris pipers and sarpo miras.

St Patrick’s Day would have been the traditional day for planting potatoes in Limerick but Chris always did it the second week in April.

“In the last couple of years, that's gone very well. It was actually the last Friday in April this year, which was about two weeks behind. It was actually starting to dry up nice and then we got the snow. And when the snow melted, it was like someone put 12 inches of rain down again, but then it went from flood to not being able to put a fork into the ground.

“As somebody said to me, we had no spring, spring is the most important part of your season, you get your crops in and the weather starts to build up. You get your damp spring, you get your April showers.

"I know people say it has been hot before but I don't think anyone can remember weather like this. It started raining in Kilcornan on August 23, 2017 and it finished the second week in April. I wouldn't say there was ten days when it didn't rain and then bang into this hot weather, huge evaporation, your ground went from pure muck into baked clay. It is like desert, where you see big cracks in the ground,” said Chris, who hasn’t written off this year just yet. But rain is needed and needed quickly.

“I know I will get some crop but it is going to be tiny compared to normal. A good stalk of potatoes you would normally get 15 or 16 really good sized queen potatoes. This year, I'm probably looking at five or six a stalk. Everything is definitely down 60% plus.

“If it doesn't rain a decent quantity of rain in the next two to three weeks they're just not going to grow. The stalks would start losing their moisture, you just really need the rain at this time of the year to put on the bulk. We are not looking for a monsoon or anything, just Irish weather.

The 52-year-old is also worried about his livelihood and he says potato prices will increase.

I'm lucky enough that my partner works but still you are wondering where is the next payment for health insurance coming from, where are you going to get the money to buy the seed for next year's crop?

"I know a lot of people who aren't in touch with the land think we do this to make money, we don't.”