Today a top Ely Potato provider for the whole of the UK and worldwide, has written an open letter to George Eustice the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.Isle of Ely Produce Director Oliver Boutwood warns that there could be a bleak new year for the UK’s potato farmers if the current situation remains and potato exports to both Northern Ireland and Ireland will cease on December 31st. As things stand not only will spuds not only reach Ireland, but the Irish chip shops could struggle with no supply too. If the UK farmers struggle with their crop, this could lead to shortages for the UK chipping market in subsequent years.
Mr Boutwood said “Fish and Chips have been a staple meal for over 160 years in the UK. Farmers & fish and chip shop owners have fed the nation throughout the pandemic, and we need the minister’s help to ensure continuity of supply to the Irish in order to protect future supply for all.”
Rt Hon George Eustice MP
13 Commercial St,
Dear Mr Eustice
British Potato Exports – A Bleak New Year?
I am the director of Isle of Ely Produce Ltd a prominent potato company based in Cambridgeshire and are involved in the marketing of potatoes for hundreds of growers in the region and wider area. With varieties such as Maris Piper and Markies grown on the fertile black soil of the Fens our area provides superb quality chipping potatoes primarily for the Fish and Chips Sector.
Currently our country exports over 100,000 tonnes of potatoes to the Republic of Ireland per year. On top of this, we export around 40,000t to Northern Ireland. That is around 2,800t per week. (Over 4 million bags of chips)
In turn this provides employment for thousands of people and supports many Agricultural & Tech businesses too. We’ve built this market over decades by offering quality, consistency and excellent product-marketing. It is an export success story that we, as a nation, and as an industry, can be rightly proud of.
And yet, as things stand, on 1st January 2021, it is a market that may cease to exist and affect the livelihoods of thousands of people.
As potatoes fall into the “high priority plants” category, there has been a lot of confusion in the industry and we even assumed that this means potatoes will just have to have a Phyto Certificate for export to Ireland. However, this is not true. We also cannot export to Northern Ireland from Jan 1st reducing our reach and ability to conduct business.
Unless ware potatoes are granted something called “3rd country equivalence” by the EU, the trade of potatoes between EU and Ireland & NI will effectively cease on 1st January 2021 which will, as previously stated, harm many people’s livelihoods
Despite the massive contrast between the amount of produce we import from the EU compared to the pitiful amount we export; we seem currently unable to negotiate a pass or even a stay of execution for potato exports to Ireland & NI.
The UK government continues to see ware potatoes as “food supply chain critical which impacts retail and consumers if supply is restricted”. Therefore, the UK government has agreed to continue to allow ware potatoes from the EU to be imported into the UK. So from 1st January 2021 we will no longer be allowed to export our potatoes to the EU or even our own Northern Ireland but we will be allowed to continue to import potatoes from the EU.
This doesn’t make sense to us at Isle of Ely Produce or indeed any of our farmers and merchants and fish and chip shop owners in Ireland/Northern Ireland we have spoken to, it is clear that we need to have the same “food supply chain critical” agreement ASAP with the EU.
Coronavirus is already having a huge impact on the potato market, and we strongly feel that us being banned from exporting to Irelend will only bring our industry more suffering.
We need to continue to export potatoes to Northern Ireland and Ireland in the same way that we have always done and the way they have been permitted to with us otherwise we fear this will cause a huge downfall in the potato industry which is a key industry for many people.
We write to you today in the hope that you will take what we have said into greater consideration during the Frost/Barnier negotiations and not continue to neglect our industry and its needs. We have kept up supply all through lockdown, and our fish and chip shop owners have bravely continued to serve through a pandemic, but currently those in NI and Eire could be forced to close due to a shortfall not of their making. Fish and chips have been served for 160 years in the UK and Ireland, it is the food of the nation and we need your help to make sure it continues to be!
Director Isle of Ely Produce Ltd
The NFFF is working with AHDB Potatoes and Government Officials on the potential supply chain issues of potatoes.