Meet the Yorkshire farmers who have formed a new potato-growing collective

Good carb? Bad carb? With so much talk of diet today the potato has perhaps never had a more serious battle to wage in the hearts of the nation. On the one hand, a jacket potato is seen as a healthy alternative, while on the other a humongous pile of chips is often seen as overkill.

Regardless of your website of choice, if you’re checking out whether potatoes are good for you, the potato is the third most consumed crop in the world after rice and wheat, and the average consumption of potatoes per person in the UK stands at over 20 stones (actual figure 130kgs, source BBC Good Food 2021).

Graham Bannister, based in Bedale, has worked in the potato industry for over 20 years and over 40 years in agriculture and is currently driving the membership of a new potato collective GB Potatoes that aims to bring the industry together to assuage some of the criticisms levelled at the potato and to enhance and ensure its future.

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“The potato is still the carb of choice. It’s definitely a challenge to keep it there as people always talk about pasta and rice being easy to cook. The industry needs to come together to be able to refute some of the claims that are put out there, and for such as offering expertise to the public over storing potatoes correctly at home. GB Potatoes is about addressing issues such as that and looking after the whole sector.

Graham Banister, GB Potatoes, and Ed Backhouse, Greenhall Farm, looking over potato crops.Graham Banister, GB Potatoes, and Ed Backhouse, Greenhall Farm, looking over potato crops.
Graham Banister, GB Potatoes, and Ed Backhouse, Greenhall Farm, looking over potato crops.

“Trying to get people to understand how they should look after their purchases and what varieties they should be looking to buy, dependent on what they are going to do with them, is important to reduce wastage. If you’re going to look after potatoes properly it should be in a dark cool place. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a certain type of potato in the fridge for instance, but just don’t expect it to make good chips.

Graham says GB Potatoes seeks to be active in all areas from potato growers to potato farming machinery and through the whole supply chain, but as it is a voluntary membership organisation unlike the previous government-based AHDB organisation that was part-funded by levy payees, there won’t be mass market spending.

“We don’t have the funds to run marketing campaigns, but by everyone working together we can help refute sometimes spurious claims. If on social media a consumer complains about chitting potatoes then someone from GB Potatoes could drop into that conversation or thread that if you just take the chits off they’re absolutely fine. These are the simple things we can be doing together as an organisation but there is much more.

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There had been a feeling within the sector that the demise of the AHDB Horticulture & Potato Development Board had left the potato world bereft of an organisation for the sector.

Graham Banister, GB Potatoes, and Ed Backhouse, Greenhall Farm, and potato sorting mchinery..Graham Banister, GB Potatoes, and Ed Backhouse, Greenhall Farm, and potato sorting mchinery..
Graham Banister, GB Potatoes, and Ed Backhouse, Greenhall Farm, and potato sorting mchinery..

“As an industry we need a voice,” says Graham. “We’re not a huge sector of agriculture by nature of the numbers employed, but we are a very important industry and since the demise of the AHDB in 2021 there has been no joined up representation for the British potato industry. That’s why GB Potatoes has been launched. It came to life at the beginning of October last year with its remit to become the hub for the industry and create that voice and representation. At present it is about getting the word out that we are here and presenting growers and every part of the industry with value for money for their membership, which is nothing monetarily in comparison with the AHDB’s levies.

Yorkshire farmer and potato grower Ed Backhouse of Greenland Hall Farm at Rawcliffe Bridge is one of the GB Potatoes’ new board of ten from the industry. Ed grows 150-200 acres of potatoes each year, mainly destined for the chip shop market. He’s positive about GB Potatoes’ future.

“It’s an organisation for the benefit of the whole potato industry. Whether that’s to help with some research on a problem or to make sure we get our message across if someone knocks potatoes. It gives us a body that can have a bit of clout and can pull potato farmers together as there has been nothing that supports the whole sector, but we can only do it properly if we get the whole of the potato sector behind us.

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“I’ve been on the NFU Potato Forum a couple of years, but that’s just NFU members in England whereas this is for the whole of Britain. I was involved in the AHDB Next Generation scheme about eight years ago and saw the good it did, even though it had its flaws. At the end of the day a lot of people didn’t think they got value for money out of their levy though.

“I’m still among the younger generation involved and having all generations involved brings a bit of balance. We all bring different ideas.

Graham says that GB Potatoes although still in its early days has already made a good start but that it is important that the organisation kicks on to be able to provide members with greater positivity, which is why he’s urging everyone to get behind it as quickly as possible.

“I love the potato industry. The potato is very much part of our staple diet and I want to see it thrive and prosper. My role is to get everyone involved in GB Potatoes. Whether they are growers, processors, packers, potato machinery equipment suppliers or retailers, I just want to see everyone come together as one. That way we can all make a very real difference.

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“I know that there are many who are inclined to say something like we’ll see how it goes. That’s really no good at all without some form of commitment. If you wait then many others might wait and with that kind of apathy we just might not be around very long. We need that critical mass of membership to be able to bring what I believe will be very beneficial to the potato sector.

“It’s about working together. We don’t have any current figures on production because the AHDB held all that data, but our most recent figures available showed that there were 1750 potato growers across GB. To give an idea of scale just 150 of those grew half the planted area. That means there are some very big growers, but unless you have all of them and all of the small to medium sized growers you’re not going to get very far. I’m pushing very hard to get as many growers as we can.

Graham also believes that GB Potatoes has an important difference to the AHDB.

“The AHDB were not allowed to lobby, as they were an arm’s length government organisation, but we will certainly lobby and we already have some influential people.

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