GALLERY: Growers urged to “think like a potato plant” at Potato Council’s East Midlands Potato Day

Attendees take part in field sessions.

Attendees take part in field sessions. - Credit: Archant

Growers were told they need to “live and breathe potatoes” and “think like a potato plant” at the Potato Council’s seventh East Midlands Potato Day.

About 200 potato growers, advisors and agronomists met at QV Foods, Holbeach Hurn, to discuss the future of the industry.

Neil Bidwell, senior agricultural business consultant at Bidwells, said: “In my experience, the grower who makes money from his potato crop is the guy who lives and breathes potatoes.

“He thinks like a potato plant, by looking at the weather and working out how his potatoes are feeling in the field that day because of those conditions.

“It’s the person that makes the extra effort to get the job done on time and adds all the little bits of detail.”

QV foods chairman Duncan Worth, who opened the event, said the crops on his farm are as good as they have been for years but there are too many potatoes around.

He said: “It’s my view that in the future it will be the best savvy potato farmer who will succeed.

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This is the producer who is growing on the right land, on the right scale and working closely with their supply chain.

The savvy farmer will work closely with their customer, producing the right quality for the right market, having both their cost of production and agronomy absolutely nailed.”

Potato Council’s director, Dr Rob Clayton, urged the industry to speak with “one voice”.

He said: “The marketplace is crowded with competitive products so our industry needs to be loud and proud, and join together to bang the drum with consistent messages about potatoes.

“Potato Council will continue to provide the evidence base and the tools industry needs to ensure that potatoes are seen as a good food by shoppers, politicians and the media alike, remaining a staple on British plates.”

David Walker OBE, chairman of the Fresh Potato Suppliers’ Association (FPSA), struck an optimistic note.

He said: “Although as an industry there are consumption and sales challenges, we have many reasons to be cheerful.

“The world has an increasing demand for food. There are lots of people to feed who increasingly need improved diets. “Increased global populations, greater world wealth and the effects of climate change has meant that food security has become a real issue and our potato industry has a role to play.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research (SBCSR) facility, which has worked to improve the quality of produce, especially potatoes, through a better understanding of storage.

To celebrate the milestone, about 150 growers, store managers and advisors attended Potato Council’s research event.

The day, sponsored by Crop Systems, showcased storage development, knowledge exchange past and present and included the latest best practice on key storage topics.

Dr Clayton, who started his career 20 years ago at GB’s leading post-harvest applied research facility, said: “Today we celebrate the key milestones and achievements over the last 50 years at SBCSR with a serious undertone.

“You are the islands of excellence; today we see innovation, thought leadership and state of the art technology around us.

“But when we travel around the country, we find an industry blissfully sleepwalking into situations that put our mainstay sprout suppressants at risk.

“We find an industry prepared to tolerate a three-fold difference in energy costs. We find growers content to sacrifice airflows to squeeze 1,100 tonnes into a 1,000 tonne store. We need to change and we need to do so quickly.

“The innovation at SBCSR has been driven by a willingness to collaborate, to understand industry needs, to seek out funding and to deliver results in a language we all understand.

“Coincidentally, these are the same credentials required to exploit opportunities created by Governments’ new funds under the Agri-tech strategy, that’s high on the Potato Council agenda right now.”