Royals a month behind as farmers face worst year

Royals a month behind as farmers face worst year

And it is not just Jersey Royal growers – the mainstay of the Island’s agricultural industry – who are suffering. Production of other seasonal local crops and soft fruit has also fallen weeks behind while Jersey cows, which by now should be grazing outside, are being kept in winter quarters as they cannot be turned out onto waterlogged pasture.

Nearly double the 30-year average of rain fell in December and January and weekly rainfall since September has left farmland saturated.

Growers say it is not possible to quantify how they could be hit financially as the value of the potato export crop is not measurable until early summer. In a good season, however, it can be worth more than £30 million.

Jersey Farmers Union President Peter Le Maistre said the situation was the worst he could remember in his more than 40 years in farming.

‘This time last year the Island was exporting the first Jersey Royal potatoes grown outdoors and this year I don’t think there are many potato fields that have even been uncovered,’ he said. ‘This year is going to be a struggle as I would say we are close to being four weeks behind.’

The first of the 2018 crop is not expected to reach market until 21 April at the earliest and growers are predicting production could be 20 per cent down.

For more than 100 years Jersey farmers’ livelihoods have depended on earning premium prices by exploiting the Island’s favourable growing conditions to get their crops to the largest and most lucrative market in the UK before the British competition.

They may still have some success as UK farmers have been hit far harder by the severe weather which saw snow fall in the north of the UK over Easter, while the south-east of England is under threat from flooding.

The National Farmers Union yesterday warned that British farmers could be facing losses of up to £500 million across all sectors because of the adverse conditions.

William Church of the the Island’s biggest potato exporter, the Jersey Royal Company, said he had not experienced anything on this scale before.

‘This year virtually all of the early areas were affected by the frost and while plants will recover and produce excellent potatoes, the crops will undoubtedly produce a reduced yield,’ he said.

‘We are behind with planting, with only two-thirds of the export crop planted to date. In any other year we’d expect to be closer to 75 per cent planted and have made a good start with planting the seed crop by now.’

Exports of Jersey Royals grown in glasshouses began last month but it is the eagerly awaited arrival of the outdoor crop – because of the unique flavour – that traditionally starts the new British growing season.

And Jersey Dairy chairman Andrew Le Gallais – who says he cannot remember a winter like it – says it is not just farmers who want the weather to change for the better as the Island’s dairy herds are impatient to get outside.

‘We would normally get the cows out to graze in the first week of April but at the moment it varies according to the different land and in some areas that is a long way off,’ he said.

Despite the delay to the start of the season supplies of freshly dug outdoor Jersey Royals will be available later this month for special promotion events aimed at UK food writers and the national media in London’s Maltby Street Market.

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