Get to know your Lady Claire from your Eurostar

David Burks (left) and Mark Tomlinson (right) of Wholecrop Marketing at one of their potato trials in East Yorkshire.
David Burks (left) and Mark Tomlinson (right) of Wholecrop Marketing at one of their potato trials in East Yorkshire.
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Potatoes are a serious business. Nearly everyone in the UK eats some form of the vegetable every week but do you know your King Edwards from your Maris Pipers?

When you’re eating crisps do you know that the potatoes used are different to those grown for chips or baked potatoes? And do you know that three of the best varieties for crispers, the trade’s name for them, are Lady Rosetta, Taurus and Lady Claire? For roast potatoes you should try the red variety Shannon.

Stick with us at Country Week for a mine of information about food and where it comes from because that’s what farmers do, provide what we eat and they’re becoming keener than ever in identifying trends.

Wholecrop Marketing is a farmer-owned business based at Kirkburn, near Driffield. It started six years ago when eight farmers and two professional traders came together to ensure that every potato grown achieves the best possible price for its variety and quality. Mark Tomlinson and David Burks’s dedication to the potato industry and their growers has seen them double the tonnage that Wholecrop trades since they began from 60,000 to 120,000 last year.

On Thursday, July 31 they will be hosting a trials day at Rob Kendall’s Low Grange Farm near Market Weighton where 84 varieties of potato will be on show. It’s an event that is predominantly for other growers, packers and buyers to see what is available and understand which variety suits their land best.

Mark is adamant that the future of the good old spud lies in providing varieties that offer better taste rather than just being the potato that provides the grower with the highest yield.

“Many of the varieties that are coming on the market today have been developed for taste as well as yield and that’s so important. We’re involved with new varieties such as Eurostar, Richhill, Rock and Divaa. As an industry it is vital that we adapt to changes in buying habits and what customers are looking for. It’s simply no good just shoving a variety into the ground without thinking about who the product is aimed at and where it is going to end up. It’s all about finding the right varieties with the right taste and pushing them well on the basis of confidence in them being the right product for the market.

“We want to find that jewel in the crown, a great and totally different tasting potato that makes everyone stand up and say we must have that. We’ve not found that quite yet but we’re getting close.

“The reason we started as Wholecrop Marketing was that growers were getting very disgruntled over the returns they were making on what they were producing. We turned the whole thing on its head and began finding them the best markets for every single potato they produced, and that’s how the company name came about because we trade the whole of the growers’ crops.’

“Some of the companies that growers had been selling to previously were only looking for a certain grade of potato, but had entered into an agreement where the whole of the grower’s crop was going to them. This meant that in many instances they were getting produce that was a better grade than they needed and that the grower could have achieved a far better price for his crop overall by selling to numerous buyers. Dealing with just one packhouse or one processor may seem easier and more convenient than dealing with more than one but in reality growers lose out on the earning capacity of their harvest.”

A big development area for Wholecrop Marketing is seed potatoes, those that are grown so that they can be replanted to grow a strong, healthy and disease-free crop.

For years the lion’s share of seed potatoes in the UK were grown in Scotland but Mark believes there’s a move towards Yorkshire as the new centre for growing.

“Seed potatoes need clean land that has not grown potatoes for 12-15 years. The Yorkshire Wolds has plenty of that and we are encouraging our existing growers and others to come on board as we know that there are markets for them.”