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A Royal potato season

Midway through the Jersey Royal season and it had all been going really well, until the drought started to hinder our digging conditions. We’ve had no rain for the last three weeks here, which is very rare on the island.

It didn’t help when our harvester broke down this week, meaning some customers won’t get their Jersey Royals. It was a real disappointment after all the effort, labour and money that has gone into it, but a reminder that farming is anything but predictable.

There is a lull for us between planting and digging the Jersey Royals, somewhere around mid March, and that’s when lockdown happened. On the farm, the biggest problem for us has been staffing. We had 10 people waiting to come over from Romania, but obviously that couldn’t happen, so instead we took on some local hotel staff who had been furloughed. For the most part it’s worked really well, although it’s not an easy shift to farm work, when the finishing time is so unpredictable.

Jersey Royals are grown using unique and traditional methods, on steep slopes known as ‘côtils’ (pronounced coteeze). We prep the fields using a winch, which hangs off a tractor that is positioned at the top of the slope, and we use a very old horse plough to carefully plough the fields.

Jersey Royals
Potato growing on Jersey is done using traditional machinery on the island's steep slopes.

Planting is all done by hand, but other than that these winches are used to lower down machinery that has been used on Jersey for hundreds of years. For the really small fields, we have a little hand digger so it’s nice and gentle. The job is extremely labour intensive, which is why getting hold of workers is so important.

The Jersey Royal has been a protected variety since the 1800s, when a farmer here came across an unusual potato of the International Kidney variety, which had five ‘eyes’ in different places. He planted it, and the resulting crop was the first of the Jersey Royals.

What we’ve found is our potatoes, whether Jersey Royals or new potatoes, do taste different. Whether it’s the soil, or the fact that every field is close to the sea; on an island that’s nine by five miles, you can’t get far from it!

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Matthew Le Maistre

Matt (far right) and his family grow potatoes - including the special Jersey Royal variety - on their farm in the south-east corner of Jersey, where the Le Maistre family has farmed since 1841.

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