Life in potatoes during times of Covid – Joe Weston

In this blog post, Joe Weston, a member of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire, reflects on this year’s potato crop and soaring demand during the coronavirus pandemic. 

In the grand scheme of things, I have not been in agriculture a long time. I’m not from a farming background and it was never something that was presented as an option at school. Agriculture can appear a difficult industry to break into, although from the inside looking out it might not seem that way.

While I was searching for a way into the industry, I took part in the Farmers Weekly’s Farmers Apprentice. There aren’t many competitions run by magazines where the first prize is a job. I have never entered a raffle since, I figure I must have used all my good luck up.

After cutting my teeth in North Lincolnshire my partner and I moved closer to her family farm in Slingsby, a mixed farm with a diverse farming enterprise and when we aren’t working we can usually be found here. Whether we are being helpful or not is up to my father-in-law!

Since moving back to my home county, I have worked as a fieldsman for RS Cockerill (York) Ltd, which is a family business providing potatoes for both packing and processing markets, whilst still farming in its own right. We are now at the tail end of a season that has been thoroughly unpredictable, although that doesn’t quite do it justice.

After a promising start to lifting, the heavens opened in late September and never looked back, spuds were lifted all over the country in conditions that would leave many a min-tiller with sweaty palms and sleepless nights.

Over winter, brief forays were made into the fields left behind, with mixed success, and so my fork never made the annual pilgrimage back into the garden shed.

When the country began readying itself for lockdown sales of toilet roll and hand gel went through the roof, supermarket demand for fresh potatoes followed a similar trend. Overnight our orders rocketed but we were fortunate that our local growers managed to help ensure that the shelves remained stocked.

Crisps were in high demand too, weeks of being trapped at home watching documentaries on Netflix, while habitually consuming potato-based snacks, must have been appealing.

We have been lifting this year’s crop for around two weeks now and going by my lawn we have certainly had the weather to make for a promising crop. Thanks to this it seems we are looking at a year of reasonable quality and modest yields, but we have had too many experiences of just how unpredictable farming can be.

This year, we have lost the principal sprout suppressant used in processing stores, Chlorpropham (CIPC). Europe has had an alternative available for some time now, but this is still awaiting approval in the UK.

As ever in farming, although we must keep one eye on the future it is the next step that retains our focus. One thing I have learnt on my journey so far is that there are very few guarantees; unless you cut hay with a good forecast, then it will definitely rain.

  • Future Farmers of Yorkshire was launched in 2010 to bring together like-minded farmers, vets and industry professionals. It is supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society. Do keep in touch with Future Farmers, during these uncertain times; we are here to help

Watch: NFU President Minette Batters gives Future Farmers address at the Great Yorkshire Virtual Show

Read more: Great Yorkshire Virtual Show Special – Q&A with the NFU

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