European success for Pat Fitzgerald
Pat Fitzgerald has become the first grower in agricultural history to introduce commercial sweet potato production to France
16 December 2015
In a unique achievement, Pat Fitzgerald, of FitzGerald Nurseries Co. Kilkenny, is responsible for the introduction of fully commercial sweet potato production to France. A move which Fitzgerald says is ‘the first time in agricultural history there’.
The move has garnered Fitzgerald great media attention across Europe and has further highlighted the high standards and level of innovation found within the Irish horticulture Industry. This however is not a new venture for Fitzgerald but rather a long on-going project for the Irishman.
Fitzgerald first started research on sweet potato production in 2008 when he teamed up with Louisiana State University to better understand the crop and how it could be successfully grown in Europe.
Having found varieties which he believed would work in an Irish setting, Fitzgerald started to propagate plants and in the first year it is reported that he produced over 10,000 plants. Having established that the crop would work well his trials grew to larger scales and Fitzgerald was fully convinced that sweet potato production was a viable venture in Ireland and also across Europe. On the production here in Ireland, which takes place under cover, Fitzgerald explains ‘Our plant production approach is set up in plugs which we worked on since 2008 and tested for three years to minimises root spiralling and yield the best crops’
Since 2008 Fitzgerald has pioneered the introduction of a wide range of sweet potato varieties to Ireland and Europe. He is now selling sweet potato all across Europe and has developed virus free stock and expertise in the development of this crop in Europe for both gardeners and farm scale availability.
On his move recent achievement with the crop Fitzgerald says that it comes down to ‘isolating modern varieties from which we have licensees for Europe on and sublicense for across Europe.’ The painstaking research which Fitzgerald has carried out over the last number of years has resulted in high quality product being available for both home growers but also larger farm scale operations
On the achievement Fitzgerald highlights the uniqueness of venture in Ireland saying “This is an unique achievement for many reasons as Ireland is not a country where sweet potato is grown outdoors but we have achieved successful root production in greenhouse production and we are now the leading young plant and variety development company in Europe for sweet potato.”