Pembrokeshire ‘earlies’ have been grown in the eponymous Southwest Wales region since the 1700s and are considered one of Wales’s most prized products.
With a soft flaky skin and distinctive fresh, earthy and nutty flavour and aroma, the early new potatoes’ unique qualities derive from the mild climate and fertile soils of this picturesque coastal area, say growers. And, as such, they enjoy protected status (PGI) so must be planted, grown and harvested in the county to bear the famous Pembrokeshire name.
Puffin Produce, Wales’s leading supplier of Pembrokeshire earlies, says its early potato programme has grown over the last five years thanks to increasing domestic demand for fresh, locally-produce food. And sales could be particularly strong this spring if options to eat out and travel abroad continue to elude consumers as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I would like to think demand is strong for such fresh, top quality produce regardless of the challenging period we’re all currently facing,” says James Kimpton, farms manager at RE Evans Farms Ltd, which has been growing Pembrokeshire earlies in the south-west of the county for two generations. “But if lockdown continues, perhaps people will be more inclined to source locally grown produce to enjoy in the comfort of their homes.”
The start of Puffin Produce’s Pembrokeshire earlies planting programme is largely dictated by the weather. “When the ground starts to warm and dry and spring makes an appearance, we make our way to the fields to begin planting,” says Kimpton. “Historically this occurs between the end of February and the beginning of April.”
But heavy rain and cold weather systems can delay planting preparations, he adds: too wet, and the ground is impassable; too cold, and the soil tends to be too hard to work on.
“It is also important potato seed is planted into soil that has begun to warm due to the onset of spring,” says Kimpton. “It is key we look after our potato seed. If the weather’s cold, it is far better to keep the potato seeds tucked away inside our heated chitting sheds until soil temperatures begin to rise.”
Rising temperatures in general are a wider concern for Puffin Produce growers, he adds. “Climate change is undoubtable affecting weather patterns,” says Kimpton. “This has a direct bearing on when we’re able to establish our crops and how hard we have to work to see them through to harvest.
“There is continual threat from pests and disease, which requires ever evolving expert knowledge and a high level of attention to crop health during the growing period,” he adds.