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Ireland faces the risk of serious potato shortages as heavy rains delay planting of its biggest vegetable crop and Brexit continues to complicate the supply of seeds.

The Celtic nation, whose 94kg per head of annual potato consumption is nearly triple the global average, would normally be starting its main planting season now. But difficult conditions — reflecting climate change, experts say — have derailed timetables.

Like most growers, Sean Ryan, chair of the potato committee of the Irish Farmers’ Association, has planted “not one, yet” of his 40 acres in south-east County Wexford.

“We’re trying to get the fields to dry out to go in to plough,” he said. “There might be the odd few farmers who’ve started but the majority aren’t starting till Monday or Tuesday,” he said.

That includes him — his land is on high ground that is usually much drier — but even he is struggling this year. “I’ve never seen anything like this year before,” said Ryan, who has been farming for three decades.

Richard Hackett, an agricultural consultant, noted scientists were attributing longer dry spells and longer wet spells to the impact of the warming planet. “You’d be very remiss to say this is not climate change . . . These last couple of years have been difficult — these long spells are definitely getting longer.”

Ireland became the first European nation to embrace the South American plant as a big crop. It flourished in Ireland’s soil and climate and became a mainstay of the diet: by the mid-19th century, Irish men were eating up to 6kg a day.

But a devastating blight beginning in 1845 wiped out potato plants and triggered a famine that shaped Ireland’s history. An Gorta Mór — the Great Hunger, in Irish — killed more than 1mn people and forced as many as 2mn to emigrate over the following years, mostly to the US.

Ireland’s current problems stem not from overreliance on a single crop, as then, but on a single, Irish-bred variety. The floury, red-skinned Rooster, developed by Ireland’s state agricultural research agency, Teagasc, and released commercially in 1991, is now the country’s best-seller, making up most of the market, the IFA says.

“We should be looking at other varieties that are more suitable,” said Hackett. “The Rooster has a very, very long growing season and it doesn’t really suit a wet season or a late planting season.”

By mid-April, Ireland’s 160 potato growers would usually have planted 21,000 acres. Only about 50 have been planted so far, Ryan said.

“There are going to be short-term supply issues, no doubt about that,” said Shay Phelan, potato crop specialist at Teagasc, The UK’s exit from the EU was also compounding farmers’ problems.

“Brexit is the biggest issue in terms of the availability of seeds,” Phelan said. Ireland used to rely on seed potatoes from Scotland but can no longer source them from outside the EU “because you can’t take a plant and put it in the soil here in the European Union”, even though potatoes for processing can be brought in.

But there was some Brexit upside: Irish fish and chip shops have traditionally relied on cheaper UK potatoes but “we’re starting to reverse that trend now and we’re just about able to compete with them, so we’re able to get that market back,” Phelan added.

Climate change could also boost Ireland as an EU supplier since major farming regions, such as in Spain, have suffered soaring temperatures and declining aquifers. “I would see Ireland being in a prime position to benefit from climate change because we have loads of water,” Hackett said.

For now, farmers are hoping forecast drier weather will materialise. But the Methodist Church in Ireland was taking no chances, asking its congregations to pray “for the rain to ease” as well as “understanding and an appropriate response from government . . . and consumers”.

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