Seed sown for spud crop

Lauren CelenzaCountryman
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Gingin potato grower Roy Humfrey said growing spuds wasn’t rocket science but was very rewarding and fulfilling.

Since 1988, Roy has been experimenting with potatoes on his 24-hectare irrigated garden.

The spud guru said buying in seed potatoes was difficult when age and timing were critical to their success.

Finding it hard to control quality of seed potatoes, Roy decided to do it all from seed to table himself.

“The physiological age for potatoes is critical for the time of the year that I plant them, ” he said.

“If they are not the right age — if they’re too young, for instance — they sit in the ground and will just break down and rot.”

Including seed, Roy produces 1000 tonnes of potatoes a year for the Potato Marketing Corporation WA (PMC) allocated pool based on February to March cultivation.

Seeds are planted in May and seed potatoes are grown and then harvested in October.

The seed potatoes are stored in a cool room where they mature for three months to allow more shoots to develop, then are replanted in February.

The seed potatoes then produce two main shoots and about 10 table potatoes for every one seed potato.

“I plant the seed potatoes whole because I found if you cut them in half, they tend to rot, ” Roy said.

Roy said if he didn’t age the seed spuds, they developed a dominant shoot which inhibited other shoots.

Before he took on potatoes, Roy grew tomatoes with his brother in Walliston until he bought the Gingin property in 1981.

“Tomatoes were a good learning crop, but it wasn’t enough for both of us so I bought my own land, ” he said.

When he first moved to Gingin, Roy started out growing Chinese cabbage, watermelons and anything that didn’t involve machinery because he didn’t have any.

“About nine years ago I grew carrots as an in-between crop, but soon after decided to stick with potatoes, ” Roy said. “I’m not sad to be out of carrots. The market was difficult because there was a lot of competition from the Middle East.”

Roy said if he could change anything about the potato industry, it would be the price gap between grade one and grade two spuds.

“Grade one can get you around $800 a tonne whereas plane grade might be worth $300/t, ” he said.

The potato grower said being in a regulated industry was good, but it also meant timing was vital.

“If you don’t have your spuds grown in time, they might not take them, ” he said.

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