Page last updated at 18:58 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Harvesting fears as frost lingers

By Martin Cassidy
BBC NI rural affairs correspondent

Consumers and farmers are counting the cost of the harsh weather which has brought vegetable harvesting to a halt and resulted in sharp price increases for some produce.
Angus Wilson said he may lose the rest of his harvest still in the ground

Consumers and farmers are counting the cost of the harsh weather which has brought vegetable harvesting to a halt and resulted in sharp price increases for some produce.

Northern Ireland potato growers, who have still 15% of their crop in the ground, are facing some of the biggest losses because of frost damage.

Angus Wilson of one the main potato packing companies, said that while the spud harvest in Britain has been safely gathered in, local growers experienced difficult planting and growing conditions which has meant harvesting has been late.

"If potatoes are in contact with frost, even for a day or two, they just go into a jelly and they become absolutely inedible," said Mr Wilson.

Fields are frozen solid to a depth of more than six inches and in many cases the entire crop may be affected by frost damage.

For every acre of spuds lost to the frost, growers will lose around £2,000.

On the up

Prices for some vegetables have already risen
Prices for some vegetables have already risen

The carrot harvest too is being badly affected by the sub-zero temperatures.

One Newtownards based grower, Robin McKee, said he has managed to save some of his carrots by covering them with straw but reckons losses will be high in carrot plots open to the frost and snow.

Greengrocers are already reporting shortages and higher prices for some produce.

Carrot and parsnip prices have risen by 30% in some shops while retailers also report difficulty in getting cauliflowers.

"English cauliflowers just aren't available and French ones are costing us up to £2 each, at that price I'd have to sell them at a loss," said one local grocer.

If things are difficult here, potato growers in the Irish Republic still have as much as 30% of their crop in the ground and heavy losses look inevitable there too.

Imported spuds may keep the lid on market prices for now, but the losses due to frost damage may well result in higher prices before the season is out.



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