Tuesday 28 April 2020

Questions For a Seed Potato Producer

This is a collaborative post

Okay this post is me being a proper geeky farmers son! It's a long post but I think it's really interesting one!

I'm always fascinated in how other farms run and when putting yesterdays post together with Potato House I had so many questions about how they operate, I thought it would be great to do a short questions and answer post. I asked Amy from Potato House the following questions and loved the answers:-

Why is Scotland known for producing seed potatoes? 
Our slightly cooler climate makes it easier to grow healthy seed free from aphid-transmitted diseases. In addition, our farm is at 150 m (500ft) above sea level so it is slightly cooler and better suited for organic seed production. Scotland has long been the supplier of seed potatoes for most potato production across the UK. Scotland also exports seed potatoes to many destinations notably Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, but also the Far East and South America.

Where do you farm and how many acres? 
It is Andrew’s brother, John who grows the potatoes on the family farm. Andrew then does the marketing and organises all the transport and other logistics. We grow about 150 acres of seed potatoes on the family farm and surrounding farms.

How long have you been producing seed potatoes and what do you produce now? 
Andrew’s grandfather was involved in seed potatoes from around the 1950s! Andrew’s father, now in his 80s still is out checking the farm on a daily basis, the farm also has cattle, sheep, oats, and other vegetables. The farm is 100% organic, and our non-organic varieties are grown on neighbouring farms. We specialise in supplying seed to smaller farmers and growers, and to the garden market. We grow about 80 different potato varieties though some a heritage specifically for supply to Germany.

Have you bred your own varieties of potato? 
Yes! We are breeding new varieties. So far our only registered variety is Mary’s Rose, but we have a wave of new red and blue fleshed varieties in the pipeline as well as more disease resistant white and cream fleshed varieties. Most of our breeding is done in association with the James Hutton Institute in Dundee. This is a fascinating but time-consuming activity. We will start with 1000s of seedlings in trials whittling them down each the growing season until we select one or two individuals to put through registration. In equal measures we are looking for a tasty, good looking variety which has a high resistance to diseases and good yield coupled with the “type” that UK consumers enjoy! Eg. Our European cousins prefer more yellow flesh. It is equivalent of buying 20,000 lottery tickets hoping your number will come up in 10 years time.

Potatoes grown from seed - all different varieties!
What does your year look like? When do you try to get crops in the ground? 
Andrew concentrates on the marketing and delivery of our potato crop so is busiest from November to April. In the summer we are also busy with the potato breeding activities. Brother John plants all the seed crops – he does this generally from mid April to mid May – if the weather is not great, this might go on until early June in a bad Spring. Harvesting is generally from early September to second half of October, again if the weather does not behave then it can be delayed into November occasionally

Do you recommend home gardeners chit or not chit their potatoes?
It is definitely a good idea to chit, but to do this you need to get your seed nice and early – maybe January or February. Chitted seed will be ready to grow much quicker once Spring arrives and the soil warms up. The main concern for potato growers is the dreaded blight – this is what caused the Irish Potato famine. 
Blight will arrive in your plants at some point so the key is the get your crop chitted, and planted early so that you have a good crop before the blight arrives. Chitted seed should come through the ground in about 2 weeks. If you buy your seed in April or May, however, then there is little or no advantage in chitting since the soil temperature will be okay for planting, though the unchitted seed will take four weeks to come through the ground.

What’s your favourite potato to grow? 
The most exciting potatoes for me are the first crop of the season – the taste of new potatoes is a highlight after months of old crop. Colleen is our favourite first early – it has good natural disease resistance and we like the taste and texture. as it is the first one ready for eating and it is always exciting to get new potatoes on your plate. 
However, we also enjoy the heritage varieties and keeping the old names going. Watching children (or anyone, really) open a blue potato for the first time is always fun – our kids used to tell their friends that they had super powers. We actually had a platter of tatties at our wedding as a “between course” taster – people still talk about this 15 years later! We’re keen to develop the sales of our red and blue fleshed varieties – they are great for adding a bit of colour to the plate, and there might even be some extra health benefits from the blue fleshed varieties.

What’s your least favourite potato to grow? 
We do occasionally stop growing varieties that are more grief than they are worth. Nicola is one of these – it seems to get blight too easily, and blight goes down into the tubers.

Any myths you hate about growing potatoes?
Some people say that potatoes are good for controlling weeds – I’d prefer to stress that potatoes are a good crop to allow the farmer/grower to control the weeds. It’s easy to hoe between the rows and once the potato plants are a good size they will smother out the weeds – but you need to do the work until they can take over,

What is the latest you’d recommend people put potatoes in? 
The first thing I’d say is that you can plant “Earlies” at any time – they will always be ready sooner than maincrop. 
Early varieties can be ready to dig in 90-100 days; while maincrop can take 120-140 days. So there is no such thing as being too late to plant earlies. Generally potatoes can be planted as soon as the risk of frost has gone – so in Cornwall or Pembroke this might be early/mid February; while in Scotland that might be mid April. They can then be planted until end of May – though as I’ve said before, the risk of blight increases with later planted crops, and the season is shorter for later planted crops.

It is however fine to plant potatoes even later so long as maximum yield is not the objective. Some people plant specifically in June or even July so that new potatoes can be freshly harvested soon before Christmas! Roasted Arran Victory is the centre piece of my Christmas Dinner table, although we usually have Turkey or Beef as a side dish!

I've really enjoyed working and chatting with Potato House and through chatting loved to learn that they are in the lone home birth club as well! And they had interesting potatoes at their wedding - we had a hedge trimmer arch at ours! Farmers are a strange breed! 

I find the idea of breeding new varieties fascinating and I'm so glad that people invest in developing this crop for the future and invest so much in keeping so many other older varieties going. Having a gene bank like this, and one that keeps growing, makes sure that we'll all be eating potatoes for a long time yet and they have the ability to over come any future problems. 

Don't forget they have their special offer on a for a bit longer yet with a 10% discount on 1kg nets of Maris Peer, Setanta and colleen - just use the code EngHome10 at the checkout!

I'm keen to try some super late plantings for new potatoes at Christmas, anyone else have plans for more potato planting? 

Do you have any questions you would ask?


  1. Very interesting Kev. Love the fact that you can plant earlies at any time. No Good Friday Myths there!

  2. I might put a few old pots in the garden to try out what the soil is like here. I had problems with ants in my old garden.

  3. Great read, Kev and Amy. Purple potatoes are wonderful to cook with. However it you mix their cooked purple innards with raw egg the (then cooked) results are blue. Yes, a Pakeha NZer writing from experience!
    Best wishes to you both, keep safe, Michelle in Wellington, New Zealand.

  4. I believe you can start Mayan gold any time of year, they dont have a 'season' Very useful.

  5. Just had to say, I found the article really interesting, never thought about all the work put into producing seed potatoes. It'll make me appreciate my potatoes even more, I'm just growing 4 huge tubs of them this year.


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