Rain is urgently needed to save this season's Northern Ireland potato crop. Stuart Meredith, an agronomist with Wilson's Country potato firm, said a particularly wet autumn, followed by one of the driest springs on record, had caused severe problems that had led to eight months of "absolute extremes for growers".
"Last autumn's heavy rains severely curtailed the 2019 harvest, with the result that many crops had to be over wintered in the ground," Mr Meredith added. "The reasonably benign weather conditions in February allowed growers to get the harvest cleared up at that stage, but it really was a skin-of-the-teeth operation. However, no sooner had growers started thinking about this year's planting season than the weather turned in the opposite direction entirely."
Northern Ireland had its sunniest April ever, according to Met Office data.
Mr Meredith said the soil was so dry that there was insufficient moisture in the ground to allow growers get their work completed to a suitable standard and that all potato crops needed ‘significant rain now.’
"Where Comber earlies are concerned, it's a case of getting sufficient moisture into the soil now," he added. This would allow crops to bulk up sufficiently in time for a mid-June harvest".
The east of Northern Ireland has been worst affected by the lack of rain.
"Conditions are extremely dry in parts of Co Down, especially on land that has been ploughed for a few weeks. Growers are struggling to get drills formed as it takes a certain amount of moisture to hold the drill in place," Mr Meredith said.