Spud beauty skin deep for growers

Kate PollardCountryman

Potato growers caught up in the push by supermarkets for blemish-free potatoes have joined forces to drive quality improvements.

Co-ordinated by Glen Ryan, Manjimup Pemberton Potato Growers is embarking on bold plans to boost the quality of its product, while keeping in touch with WA consumers and chefs.

When large numbers of ware potatoes for consumption were being downgraded because of their finish, Mr Ryan was spurred into getting local growers together to come up with solutions.

Growers say that because of competition between supermarkets, it is getting to the stage where potatoes need to look like apples - be bright and shiny, resulting in a cosmetic skin-finished product.

The push means fewer varieties meet the requirements for sale at supermarkets and restaurants.

Mr Ryan said the group of more than 20 growers produced about 1000 tonnes of potatoes for the fresh and ware markets each week and also grew potatoes for processing and seed for sale locally, in the east and overseas.

Its focus is on getting soils and nutrition right, which will help produce a good quality product for all markets - ware, processing and seed.

With funding from the Potato Marketing Corporation and the Agricultural Produce Commission Potato Producers Committee, the growers group has instigated independent trials at the Manjimup Research Station.

Members are also undertaking their own trials on-farm.

The focus is on increasing calcium rates in potatoes, trialling composting and green manuring to increase soil microbes and reducing reliance on chemicals. They also want to look at a water monitoring trial for irrigation scheduling. The aim is to work on their paddocks to get the soils right five years in front of their potato rotation.

"All the information we are getting and the trial work will be available to any potato grower from any region," Mr Ryan said. "And if I can encourage any other area to start up a potato group like we have, we are more than happy to help."

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