The hi-tech world of the potato was sampled by members of Crewkerne & District U3A at their monthly meeting in the George Reynolds Centre. Guest speakers Ian Wait, Operations Director and Agronomist, Ben Mitchell of Branston Ltd, one of the UK’s biggest suppliers of potatoes to supermarkets, told members that the process of getting the potato to the dinner plate was a very sophisticated one. Automated tracking of a crop means that if there are any bad potatoes they can be retraced back to the very field where they were grown.
The experts from Branston Ltd which has a site at Seavington St Michael said: “We make sure that the potato you are about to boil, bake, roast or fry is the very best quality.” After harvesting, the potatoes are washed in clear water which does not contain any chemicals. They are then sprayed with a ‘good’ bacteria to protect them against ‘bad’ bacteria and cameras in the factory track individual potatoes to ensure they are correctly graded by size and quality, with damaged ones being rejected.
U3A members agreed that at this time of the year, it was good to know what the experts think are the best new potatoes. They were surprised to hear that it’s not Jersey Royals but Cornish Earlies, which are all DNA tested to ensure purity. Ian and Ben who brought eight trays of samples with them said: “Please try them because you will be amazed.” The samples included two varieties each of salad, jacket and roasting potatoes as well as newer varieties that were not so well known. “Potatoes are the healthiest and most eco-friendly carbohydrate food by a long way. Sadly consumption here in the UK is falling as younger people are less bothered to peel and prepare them. But in China, for ecological reasons, emphasis is now put on growing potatoes rather than rice,” members were told.
Branston Ltd will become the only potato supplier to Tesco in July. The company also supplies potatoes to other supermarkets including Waitrose and provides mash to Bookers. Crewkerne & District U3A chairperson Sheila Seymour said: “Ian and Ben were terrific speakers. They were expecting 20 to 30 people but the room was full with over 100 members. It was a fantastic talk that generated nearly 30 minutes of questions and prolonged applause at the end.”