This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol4", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
Although regarded by many as being almost exclusively a farmer's crop, the Potato receives considerable attention from the market gardener proper, both in the open air and under glass. Considering its great and universal value as an article of diet, the Potato is extensively cultivated in all parts of the British Islands. Taking the figures from the Returns of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, there were 1,175,168 ac. under Potatoes in 1911, against 1,151,632 ac. in 1907. In 1904, however, the area was given as 1,232,055 ac, so that there has been a decline of nearly 60,000 ac. in the course of a few years. Ireland, which had 1,000,000 ac. of Potatoes forty years ago, still grows more than the rest of the United Kingdom put together, including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, the Irish acreage for 1911 being 591,269 against 571,801 for the rest of the kingdom, of which 142,629 ac. are in Scotland.
In Ireland, Ulster is the leading Potato-growing province with 243,671 ac, Munster next with 121,655 ac, then Leinster with 111,442 ac, and Connaught very close with 110,376 ac. Of the Irish counties Cork leads the way with 42,761 ac; the next in order being Down with 41,561 ac; Mayo, 35,898 ac; Tyrone, 35,801 ac; Donegal, 35,390 ac; Antrim, 33,633 ac; Galway, 32,678 ac; Londonderry, 28,394 ac; Kerry, 21,415 ac;
Cavan, 21,071 ac; and Tipperary, 20,846 ac. The smallest Potato-growing county is Kildare, with 5877 ac; and Carlow, Dublin, Longford, Louth, Meath, Water ford, West Meath, and Wicklow each has less than 10,000 ac. devoted to Potatoes. The counties having between 10,000 and 20,000 ac. each are Armagh, Clare, Fermanagh, Kilkenny, King's County, Leitrim, Limerick, Monaghan, Queen's County, Roscommon, Sligo, and Wexford. On the whole, Potato-growing seems to be general throughout Ireland.
In England, with 391,083 ac. in 1908 and 402,505 ac. in 1911, the principal Potato-growing counties are: -
12,319 „ ...
11,629 „ , ...
The smallest English Potato-growing counties are: Rutland, 212 ac; Monmouth, 1051 ac; Westmorland, 1291 ac; Hereford, 1397 ac; Dorset, 1671 ac; Bucks, 1710 ac; Berks, 1815 ac; Middlesex (excluding London), 2003 ac; and Derby, 2323 ac.
This important crop is practically not grown in the district of Evesham; but in Mid-Worcestershire it is largely grown. About Bewdley, Stourport, Kidderminster, Stourbridge, Hartlebury, and Ombersley - districts almost exclusively on the New Red Sandstone formation - many hundreds of acres of Potatoes are grown. The soil is sandy, dry, and warm, and although the plant likes the warm and dry soil it quickly deteriorates, owing to the soil being deficient in the natural food requirements of the Potato. The growers realize this fact and act upon it by obtaining a change of seed at short intervals. A large grower has informed the writer that he finds it profitable to purchase "seed" regularly from Scotland, and that he finds such "seed" gives its best crop during its second year of growth here. That is to say, seed saved from the progeny produced by the Scottish seed during its first year of growth in this country gives better results than its Scottish parent.
In Scotland, out of a total of 142,629 ac, the counties of Fife, Forfar, and Perth have 48,436 ac under Potatoes, the figures being: Fife, 16,342 ac; Forfar, 16,992 ac; Perth, 15,102 ac The smallest Potato -growing counties are: Selkirk, 238 ac; Nairn, 359 ac; Peebles, 391 ac; Clackmannan, 399 ac; Kinross, 888 ac; and Bute, 998 ac The other counties have between 1000 and 9000 ac. devoted to Potato growing.
In 1911 Wales had 26,667 ac under Potatoes, a decrease of 663 ac from 1908. The most important Potato-growing counties are: Cardigan, with 5116 ac; Carnarvon, 3476 ac; Carmarthen, 3261 ac; Denbigh, 2538 ac; Pembroke, 2249 ac; and Anglesey, 2047 ac. Radnor and Brecon are the two smallest Potato counties, with 670 and 792 ac. respectively. The other counties - Flint, Glamorgan, Merioneth, and Montgomery - have almost a similar acreage under Potatoes, varying from 1465 ac. in Merioneth to 1741 ac. in Flint.
In Mr. A. W. Sutton's paper on Potatoes in the Royal Horticultural Society's Journal, 1896, vol. xix, it is noted that the 1,232,055 ac. of Potatoes in the United Kingdom in 1894 gave an average yield of 3 tons 15 cwt. 2 qr. 20 lb. per acre - a miserably poor return, indicative of either very bad cultural methods or very severe attacks of disease - most probably both. The same authority states that in France 3,342,500 ac. are under Potatoes annually, the total yield being 10,100,000 tons, or an average of 3 tons 2 qr. 24 lb. per acre - somewhat worse than that for the United Kingdom.
According to the Standard Cyclopedia of Modern Agriculture, the Russian Empire takes first place in Potato growing with 10,000,000 ac. As the total crop is 28,000,000 tons, the average works out at less than 3 tons to the acre. Germany, with 8,145,000 ac. and a crop of 45,000,000 tons, gives an average of 5 1/2 tons to the acre. In Austria the average is given as 4 to 5 tons to the acre; while in the United States the average is stated to be only 1 ton to the acre, on the authority of Mr. Eugene H. Grubb, of the United States Department of Agriculture, who visited England and the Continent in 1910. In 1912 there were 3,689,000 ac. of Potatoes grown in the United States, estimated to yield 398,000,000 bushels.
If these figures from agricultural statistics are to be relied upon, it simply means that Potato growing for profit is by no means a lucrative business. An average of 3 tons to an acre would spell ruin in a very short time to the open-air grower. It is possible that the figures are inaccurate, and that from 6 to 8 tons per acre is nearer the mark. Indeed, the figures given in the Standard Cyclopedia of Modern Agriculture show an average of over 6 tons to the acre for the United Kingdom for year 1908, Scotland having 7 30 tons to the acre; England, 695 tons; Wales, 5.55 tons; and Ireland, 545 tons.