There was delight for brothers John and Chris Fortune at the 2018 Origin Green Farmer Awards ceremony in the Heritage Killenard Hotel, Co. Laois on December 12 last when their company, Kilmore Potatoes Ltd, won the potato category in recognition of their excellence in sustainable production.
Competing in a very strong category in which just two marks separated all of the finalists, the Wexford brothers claimed top honours for displaying “impressive biodiversity measures” on their farm which includes 30 acres of uncropped land. The judges were also impressed with their well-thought-out strategy for variety selection and planting based on market analysis and demand, nutrient management practices and use of precision GPS guided equipment.
The Fortunes were among 11 category winners at the awards which are aimed at recognising Ireland’s most sustainable, efficient and environmentally-friendly family farms. Each of the 39 finalists were put through a rigorous process that included on-farm judging by teams composed of representatives from Bord Bia, the Irish Farmer’s Journal, UCD and IT Blanchardstown. The glitzy awards ceremony was attended by over 240 people from the farming and agri-food sectors.
Presenting the awards, Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy noted how “the pursuit of excellence by Origin Green Farmers is at the heart of the Irish Food and drink industry’s export success.”
The horticulture section, which was divided into four categories, was new to the awards programme and the Fortune brothers were thrilled to be the inaugural potato category winners.
“It’s great recognition for our business,” John Fortune enthuses.
“There was an audit carried out on our farm and we met all the criteria in relation to sustainability and bio-diversity. It was a great night and we were delighted to come away with the award.”
Kilmore Potatoes Ltd is a third-generation family business which grows a wide range of potato varieties to cater for a number of market segments, including the planting of salad potatoes to meet a growing market sector commonly met by imported produce. It was established 12 years ago in Kilmore, which is 10 miles south of Wexford town, by John and Chris who, like their father and grandfather before them, have a passion for growing potatoes.
The company provides jobs to eight full-time staff and seasonal workers as required during the season. The Fortunes grow thousands of tonnes of quality potatoes annually on 400 acres of mostly rented land, which they supply directly to packers and distributors as well as to local restaurants and chippers.
John is an advocate of changing energy supplier to get the best deals and reduce costs. Integrated pest management is also practiced to reduce dependency on plant protection products.
The Irish know their potatoes better than anyone, so the Fortunes take great pride in the care and skill with which they grow the humble spud. They give their potatoes all the attention they need to ensure they arrive on the consumer’s plate in prime condition.
The family tradition of growing potatoes goes back many decades. John Fortune Snr supplied potatoes to local chip shops before his sons took things a step further by growing them on a much bigger scale.
“It’s in our blood,” John Jnr proudly says.
“Our father and grandfather grew potatoes and it’s all we knew when we were growing up. Kilmore Potatoes came into being in 2007 and has grown every year since then. We’ve had to get bigger in order to make a living from it. We’ve introduced salad potatoes and chipped potatoes in recent years which now account for about 40% of our annual crop. By growing a variety of potatoes, we aren’t dependent on any one sector of the market.”
Growing and harvesting the potatoes themselves, the brothers run one McCormick, one New Holland, two Landini and three Massey Ferguson tractors along with various other equipment such as potato harvesters (including a Grimme Single MultiSep and a Grimme Double MultiSep), destoners, sprayers, fertiliser spreaders and rotavators.
Once harvested, the potatoes are washed and graded. Most of the potatoes are sent to K&K Produce in north Co. Dublin for packing and distribution. Kilmore Potatoes also supply directly to Meade Potatoes in Co. Meath, Cullen’s Fruit & Veg in Gorey, Co. Wexford and Castlecor Potatoes in Mallow, Co. Cork. The spuds they supply to restaurant and chip shops are usually freshly cut, having been peeled and sliced before delivery.
The cycle begins for Kilmore Potatoes in February when planting of ‘early’ potatoes takes place. This is followed by harvesting between the months of May and November. In between, spraying is carried out every 10 days to prevent the spread of potato blight, which can wipe out a crop overnight.
“We start the process by destoning the land and then planting,” John explains.
“We sow our first crop in early February and continue sowing up until the end of April. The ‘earlies’, which are grown under plastic, are harvested in late May. The weather dictates everything.”
Speaking of the weather, last summer’s drought impacted greatly on potato yields, but this was tempered somewhat for Kilmore Potatoes by improved prices.
“Our crops were back 3-4 tonne an acre which is significant. But they responded well when they rain eventually came and prices were good, so it could have been a lot worse.”
As already mentioned, the brothers grow a variety of potatoes to suit every taste, including Roosters, Kerr’s Pink, British Queen’s, Golden Wonders and ‘Earlies’ with the former retaining its place as Ireland’s most popular potato.
Kilmore Potatoes Ltd
Telephone: 053 9135246
Mobile: 087 2862914
Email: [email protected]
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 1, February/March 2019