People who claim that potatoes are in any way bad for us are ill-formed or have a hidden agenda. That’s the contention of the life long potato harvester Anthony Battersby … and it is hard to disagree with him.
After all, weren’t our ancestors all essentially raised on potatoes and what harm did it ever do them? Is obesity not a modern phenomenon? Also, should we not endorse and support an indigenous industry that is at the very heart of rural Ireland? A rhetorical question if ever there was one!
For the past 30 years, Anthony has been one of the main suppliers to Ashbourne based Tayto Snacks and Sam Dennigan Fresh Produce. The family tradition of growing potatoes began 50 years ago when Anthony’s father Tony stared with what his son described as ‘from nothing’. The business has come a long way since then and is now headed up by Anthony and his sons Andrew and Ian who have recently became involved.
German-headquartered Intersnack has invested in the business having acquired it from Ray Coyle over a period leading up to 2015. The company had previously invested about €20 million in the Tayto business between 2006 and 2016.
The Meath-based Tayto Snacks business is among the best-performing markets by revenue in Intersnack’s business. In 2017, it placed fifth out of 24 countries into which Intersnack has operations with revenue of €88.5 million. The UK, Germany, the Netherlands and France had higher sales figures.
Largo Foods, the Meath-based snack manufacturer that owns the Tayto and Hunky Dory brands rebranded as Tayto Snacks to boost its public association with the eponymous crisp brand that has adorned Irish school lunch boxes and sandwiches for generations. Tayto Snacks, which is now wholly owned by German group Intersnack, said the name change was a “homage to the strength, longevity, and recognition” of its flagship brand, Tayto.
The business also owns the King crisps brand, Hula Hoops, and the Perri and KP snack brands. Tayto Snacks, run by managing director Jeff Swan, operates from an 80,000sq ft facility in Ashbourne
In 2018, Tayto Snacks undertook a €16 million investment programme which will make its factory in Ashbourne, Co Meath more efficient. This means that the future is bright for growers like Anthony who harvest up to 7,000 tonnes of potatoes on 500 acres of land.
“Tayto Snacks and Dennigans are our two biggest customers and we have been supplying them since I first became involved in the business,” said Anthony.
“We plant a wide range of potatoes to cater for the markets that we are supplying and they are all processing makes. Saturna, Lady Clare and Rosetta are the ones mainly used by Tayto Snacks while we harvest Roosters and Salsa Verde for Dennigans.”
The potato cycle begins in March/April/May when planting takes place, followed by the harvesting in September/October. In between, the potatoes are sprayed every 10 days to control and prevent the spread of potato blight, which can wipe out a crop overnight.
“Once harvested we store the potatoes in storage facilities either here at the farm or at Tayto Snacks.”
Of course, this industry is very weather dependent and Anthony is hoping for a better yield than what was produced last year following a very dry summer.
“The yield dropped about 15-20% last year and we are hoping for a better return this year. Weather wise, there is not a lot you can do accept hope that the weather is favourable, but you have to take the good with the bad.”
As growers get a smaller and smaller share of consumer price, potato production is coming under increasing threat. It’s approaching a crisis situation and something is going to have to be done.
“The potato grower is not being supported at Government level at all. We are not entitled to any grants that I know of anyway and certainly more could be done for the next generation.
“I have two lads involved here now and what does the future hold for them unless they get more support from the government?”
The Irish know their potatoes better than anyone, so Anthony takes great pride in the care and skill with which he grows potatoes. They give their potatoes all the attention they need to ensure they arrive on the consumer’s plate in prime condition. The Battersby’s strive to provide the highest quality potatoes which meet the standards of the Irish consumer, while being mindful of the environment. Their passion for producing the best keeps them focused and promotes continuous improvement.
“I have been at this a lifetime now and obviously you learn a lot down through the years, but one of the first things you learn is that unless you are providing a quality product to your customers, you won’t be in business too long.
“Quality is everything for both us and our customers that is why we take the necessary steps to ensure the crops are treated properly and we get the best yield possible.”
Rices Hill Farm Ltd
Email: [email protected]
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 4, August 2019