What a difference a year makes for Jersey’s potato growers...
ROLL the clock back to this time last year and Jersey Royal growers, who were in dire straits after a winter of heavy rain followed by severe frosts, snow, then more rain, had delayed the Island’s premier crop by a month.
Fields were waterlogged and seed potatoes were still being planted, where conditions permitted. The first exports were at a 40-year low as the early land – sloping small côtils and sandy soils of St Ouen – was yielding just ten to 12% of the usual harvest.
April 2019 could not be more different, as farmers were working flat out this week to meet demand from the UK ahead of the long Easter weekend, when lamb and new spring potatoes are traditional family favourites.
And, instead of having to contend with waterlogged fields, this year’s drier winter has meant some farmers are already irrigating where the soil tends to be sandy and dry.
William Church, marketing director for The Jersey Royal Company – the Island’s biggest potato grower – says there is no comparison between this year’s season and 2018’s.
‘It is like comparing chalk to cheese,’ he said. ‘We had a mild winter and at one point there was concern in some quarters that there would not be enough rain, but our reservoirs are pretty full. We began digging outdoors in the week beginning 8 April and at the moment demand is outstripping supply, as there is a lot of demand in the UK ahead of Easter.
‘If we had more crop, the market would be able to take it but we are being sensible about what we are hand-digging on the slopes, as we are limited to the areas we can get to. We started using a harvester on Wednesday and that is early.’
In a good season, the Jersey Royal crop is worth more than £30 million for the local agricultural industry. The crop is planted according to a tried-and-tested system to ensure the UK market is supplied from early April to July, with production peaking in May and June.
St Ouen growers Didier and Christine Hellio export their crop through Albert Bartlett. They also supply the Co-op and have their own farm shop in Vinchelez.
‘We have been exporting for about three weeks and the flavour of the potatoes is just lovely,’ Mrs Hellio said. ‘We have got about 320 vergées of Jersey Royals in the ground this year, mostly in St Ouen with a couple of fields in St Mary, because we don’t like to leave St Ouen very often!
‘I think we are going to have a bumper crop this year and I hope that Islanders go out and buy them, because they simply are the best potatoes in the world.’
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