PA 12/19/95 4:42 AM

Copyright 1995 PA News

By Chris Parkin, PA News

Locally-grown new potatoes - normally not available until the end of January at the earliest - will be dished up with some Christmas dinners in Ireland this year. However, cauliflowers may be absent, as unseasonal weather creates unprecedented problems for the vegetable trade.

The first potatoes of the Irish season were snapped up at a Dublin market by restaurant owner Terry McCoy yesterday. He paid 7 each for 30 potatoes with the money going to charity. The sale marked the first time in living memory that a new Irish spud had made its bow before Christmas. Normally, it is at least the end of January before the first local potatoes arrive.

A spokesman for the company that sold the potatoes said today: "No one in the market here can remember new potatoes arriving for sale before Christmas. It's confirmation that something strange in happening to the seasons." He added: "We have never known such confusion. "Cauliflower growers were totally wrong-footed this year. All of their planned Christmas supplies were ready by the first week of this month, and they went through the market 10 days ago.

"Now there is a huge scarcity of cauliflowers because the same thing has happened all over Europe and we cannot tap our traditional sources of supply in Britain and Holland." The exceptionally mild weather of recent months is believed to have accelerated the normal growth patterns of vegetables.

Shoppers are being warned that the price of salad vegetables could rise in the run-up to Christmas. Heavy rain in parts of Spain has reduced supplies and growers say there could be a knock-on effect in UK shops.

"There has been heavy rain in certain areas of Spain," said a spokeswoman for trade body the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Information Bureau. "That combined with a heavy demand at this time of year could mean price rises -- but they should not be too drastic."

Fruits including satsumas and clementines could also be affected.

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