Potato farmers face ‘bleak new year’ and Ireland will miss out on chips as Brexit looms, specialist warns

Isle of Ely Produce

Oliver Boutwood, director of Isle of Ely Produce, has warned the government that potato exports to Ireland could stop completely after the Brexit deadline. - Credit: Isle of Ely Produce

An Ely-based potato specialist has warned the government that UK exports could stop completely from December 31 - which, for Ireland, could lead to a shortage of chips.

Oliver Boutwood, director of Isle of Ely Produce, claims that if the current situation in terms of the Brexit negotiations remains, potato exports to both Ireland and Northern Ireland will cease at the end of the year. 

He has outlined his concerns in a letter to George Eustice, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  

In it, he explains the UK currently exports over 100,000 tons of potatoes to the Republic of Ireland every year. Around 10,000 tons are also sent to Northern Ireland.  

Mr Boutwood said: “And yet, as things stand, on January 1 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 January 1 reducing our reach and ability to conduct business.” 

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He continues: “Unless ware potatoes are granted something called ‘3rd country equivalence’ by the EU, the trade of potatoes between EU and Ireland and Northern Ireland will effectively cease on January 1 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 and Northern Ireland.” 

He also explains that as the UK government continues to categorise ware potatoes as “food supply chain critical, which impacts retail and consumers if supply is restricted”, they can still be imported from the EU.  

“So from January 1 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,” Mr Boutwood said, stressing that this could have a knock-on effect on other sectors.  

“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.” 

He finally urges George Eustice to take his points into consideration as the UK and EU negotiations continue.  

Mr Boutwood said: “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!”