Farming talk: Humble potato contributes £5bn to UK economy
James Daw has been growing potatoes all his life. The equivalent of 850 football pitches of spuds form a substantial part of his Staffordshire farm's activities. The crop, all grown for processing, is marketed through two grower groups which James co-founded, writes Jim Davies, communications manager at the Potato Council.
He supplies major British French fries and crisps businesses including McCain and Walkers. This area of the potato sector grew in volume at retail level during 2014 and part of James' success has been in establishing long term relationships and securing the right supply contracts with his customer base.
But before the most healthy and virile seed is sourced and planted next month, he is thinking about the future of his farming business.
He knows that there are huge differences in production efficiency and is constantly looking at ways to reach his true economic optimum. Budgeting and benchmarking are crucial to his business model.
Just like all the 2,000 highly specialised British growers, who incorporate potatoes as part of their farming operation, James' crop requires specialist machinery, agronomy and management.
"Independent, evidence-based information is crucial to ensuring the industry moves forward," says James. "Potato Council prepares, protects and safeguards our sector from outside changes such as EU legislation and puts research at the forefront.
"Potato Council spends £1.4m annually on research and development topics chosen by the industry as being important to the sector."
As a grower, it's important to him that future generations learn where the potatoes on their dinner plate come from, how they grow and that they're a healthy food.
"A potato is a naturally fat-free source of fibre and vitamin B6; it has more potassium than three bananas; has a lower environmental impact than rice and pasta; and contributes £4.7bn to the British economy.
"Potato Council's education programme is second to none. Since 2005, over two million primary school children have taken part in Grow Your Own Potatoes which is firmly embedded in the schools' curriculum. In addition, more than 2,000 secondary schools have participated in the Cook Your Own Potatoes. This ensures the great attributes of my potatoes are embedded through to adulthood."