To enable the children to
1. See the type of plant a potato plant is;
2. Appreciate the history of the potato in Ireland and its contribution to the famine in the middle of the 19th century;
3. Understand the procedure of Potato production in Ireland;
4. Become aware of the varieties of potatoes and uses of potatoes;
5. Appreciate the significance of the potato industry in Ireland today.

Tuber, economic, blight, social, famine, emigrate, hectares, cultural practices, varieties, commercial, technological, biotechnology, processing sector, horticultural, organic, retail sector, political.

Development of Lesson
Describe a potato plant!
Did Ireland always have potatoes?
Why was the potato the major cause of the 1845 famine?
Potatoes are grown for two reasons - What do you think they might be?
Do you know any potato varieties you use at home?
How do you think the potato industry has changed over the years?
The 'potato' is a Tuber. This means that it is a round growth on the stem or root of the potato plant and grows under the ground.
We eat more potatoes in Ireland than in any other part of the world. Indeed, potatoes used to be the staple food in Ireland. We are almost self sufficient in potatoes in Ireland and Irish farmers supply over 90% of the domestic market.

Potatoes in Ireland Historically
It is believed that the potato was introduced to Ireland during the late 16th century. The introduction of the potato to Ireland has been attributed to both Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, both of whom visited Ireland during the late 1500's.


Did You Know?
You can survive on a diet of potatoes only!
The Potato Famine
Social and economic circumstances of the 18th century led to an overwhelming dependence on potatoes as the staple food for the Irish nation. The extension of the Penal Laws in combination with trade restrictions undermined the development of industry in Ireland and this in turn increased the dependence of the nation on the potato as a food source. The 19th century saw the introduction of many political, social and economic reforms, however the dependence on potatoes remained.
In 1845 the farmer's crop failed due to the fungus that is known as 'Late Blight' and is now described as Phytophthora infestans. The disease brought about the destruction of the potato crop and within days of striking and the disease was found throughout the country. The predominance of the potato crop and in particular the variety called 'Lumpar' meant that the Famine years wreaked havoc on the economy and society as a whole.
Over one million died as a result of famine and fever, while a further two million were forced to emigrate throughout the late nineteenth century.

Potato production
Potatoes are grown by farmers for two reasons, firstly as 'Ware Potatoes' to be eaten by ourselves and exported as food and secondly as 'Seed Potatoes' to re-plant and grow new potatoes. Potatoes when left alone begin to sprout new plants from within the potato itself.
Potato production is spread throughout every county in Ireland with approximately 80% of commercial production (1 hectare or more) concentrated in five counties, Meath, Dublin, Donegal, Cork and Louth. Commercial production consists of approximately 18,000 hectares of potatoes in Ireland, of which 3,000 hectares are entered for certification to be sold as seed potatoes under the Department of Agriculture and Food seed certification scheme.

Ware Potatoes
Ware Potatoes for human consumption are mainly grown by farmers in the East (counties Meath, Louth, Dublin) these have been grown from seed potatoes which are certified as being free from a range of viruses and diseases by the Department of Agriculture and Food. The quality and yields that ware potato growers obtain will be dependent on the use of certified seed potatoes and good cultural practices.


The Seed Potato Industry
Today's potatoes are available in a wide range of varieties that have been bred to serve the special demands of different markets. Breeding new potato varieties is a long process that can take up to 11 years to produce commercial quantities of a new variety. When a new variety is selected from a breeding programme, it will then be multiplied and grown as 'seed' potatoes. Seed potatoes are specially grown to be free from virus and disease infection. There are strict regulations, which are administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food, which apply to the production of seed potatoes in Ireland.
The first stages of seed potato production have traditionally been undertaken in regions of Ireland that are isolated and less prone to spread diseases due to climatic conditions, such as Donegal and Mayo. This has helped to ensure that Irish seed potatoes have maintained a high health status.
The European Commission has designated Ireland as a high grade seed potato production region.
Recent technological developments include the rapid reproduction of potato varieties using micro propagation techniques. This has significantly reduced the time involved in producing commercial quantities of new varieties that are sold to the ware potato producer.
Biotechnology is the latest development to be applied to the breeding of potatoes. This involves laboratory-based techniques that enable the transfer of genes between different plants thus bringing about tailored plant characteristics. To date a number of new specialised potato varieties have been developed in America and Europe for their starch and disease resistance properties.

Main Potato Varieties in Ireland
The demand for various potato varieties grown will change over time in line with the changing needs of different markets for potatoes. Potato varieties possess a range of characteristics in terms of appearance, size and shape as well as eating and cooking qualities. Theses characteristics will determine the typical uses to which different varieties will satisfy. In addition, potato varieties are also categorised in terms of their maturity and the three categories include First Earlies, Second Earlies and Maincrop. First Earlies and Second Earlies are normally harvested immature for immediate sale. Second Earlies may also be harvested at maturity and stored. Maincrops area normally harvested at maturity and stored.

The main crops grown by farmers in Ireland are:
First Earlies:
Home Guard
Second Earlies:
British Queen
Kerr's Pink
Pentland Dell,
Golden Wonder,
Maris Piper,


The Modern Potato Industry

Potatoes are the most widely used vegetable in Ireland and are available in a wide range of formats. They are supplied by farmer into a number of markets including the retail, catering and processing sectors. With new and ever changing consumer demands being addressed by the potato industry there are ongoing technological and product developments taking place. Potatoes are now available in the supermarket in various formats including washed, unwashed, organic, packaged and free flow. The grading of potatoes also means that today's consumer can purchase potatoes as 'baby' size, regular range (35-70mm), and large baking potatoes (about 80mm in size).
The catering trade normally demands potatoes that have been partially or fully prepared for ready use. Typical forms of potato uses in the catering trade include washed unpeeled, peeled whole, diced potatoes, fresh or frozen chips and canned potatoes. The catering trade in Ireland has shown considerable growth in recent years in line with the increased consumer trends towards eating outside the home especially in the restaurants, fast food outlets and pubs.
The Irish processing market consists of a small number of companies who are involved in the processing of potatoes as crisps; chips, both frozen and chilled, baked and modified products such as croquettes, colcannon and an increasing range of new consumer products.

Did you Know?
When Potatoes were first discovered and brought to Europe, cooks used to cut off the potatoes and eat the leaves above ground instead. Yuk!
How are Crisps Made?
Crisps are made by firstly passing the potatoes through a washer reel to remove dirt and stones, then peeling them. They are then sliced by a special machine that can vary the thickness depending on the type of crisp needed (thick crisp or thin). After slicing there follows a cold-water rinse and then the slices of potato are fried in hot oil until they are nice and crispy. They are then flavoured by dusting them with salt, vinegar, cheese or other flavourings in a rotating, tumbling drum to ensure an even coating on each individual crisp. The crisps are then packed in sealed bags to keep them fresher for longer. Each bag is dated before packaging and then is boxed and sent to the local shops.

Did you Know?

Did you know that Teagasc, the farm & food research agency has created through research new varieties of potato? Two in particular are very successful 'Cara' & 'Rooster'.


Sources of further information:
An Bord Glas
Commercial House, West End Commercial Village, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15.
Tel: 01-8030398 Fax: 01-8030399
· Promotion literature on horticulture products including potatoes;
· Quality programme for potatoes;
· Potato Market intelligence.
Department of Agriculture and Food
Agriculture House, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.
Tel: 01-6072887
· Potato regulations;
· Plant health monitoring;
· Grant schemes for potato handling and storage;
· Potato producer groups;
· Market information on potatoes
19 Sandymount Avenue, Dublin 4.
Tel: 01-6688188 Fax 01-6603673
· Technical advice on potato production and storage;
· R & D on potato breeding and production;
· Horticultural training.

The AgriFocus Challenge
1. Potatoes and potato products
Visit your local supermarket and list the number of different varieties of potato for sale.
Describe each variety under the following headings:
· Variety
· What colour is the skin?
· Is it a First Early, Second Early or Maincrop?
· Where was it grown?
· How much does it cost per Kilo?
How many other products containing potatoes are for sale in the supermarket?
How much per Kilo do they cost?
2. Grading Potatoes are graded according to size there are three different categories:
Large (baked potatoes), ware grade and small grade (seed). Potatoes are graded by the farmer, the merchant or the processor using metal riddles or gauges. They are passed over an area of different sized gauges, through which they may or may not fall depending on their size. Small grades pass through a 50mm square riddle and sit on a 35mm riddle. Ware grade pass through a 85mm square riddle and sit on a 45m square riddle and large grade pass through a 90mm square riddle and sit on a 65mm square riddle.
Pupils will make the gauges to the exact measurements shown using stiff cardboard. Ideally pupils will grade potatoes that have been collected on a farm visit, where this is not possible the teacher should ensure that the potatoes to be graded are of different sizes.
· Grade the potatoes.
· Count the number of potatoes in each grade.
· Put your results on a table and graph.
3. Sprouting
Cut a potato into sections making sure that each section has at least one eye on it. Cut out a section also which has no eye. Now plant these potato sections in glass jars. Vary the conditions in which the sections are left. For example place some in water, some in soil, some with light (on a window still) some without light (in a cupboard), some in heat and some in cold.
Make observations of the growth of new sprouts. From your experiments calculate the best conditions for growth.