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The Sutton Bridge company behind your chips and crisps

Potatoes and the crisps they become ANL-161125-165328001
Potatoes and the crisps they become ANL-161125-165328001

Ever wondered where your crisps and chips come from? Ever wondered how it is that potatoes are grown and processed into becoming the goods we all know and love? Well, an event held last Thursday helped answer those questions.

Beside the River Nene and in front of the Sutton Bridge power station twin towers, lies a cluster of offices and warehouses. Amongst those buildings Solana Seeds UK organised a potato demonstration day to showcase the different potato varieties they offer to an audience of industry figures.

Various potatoes on display ANL-161125-165342001
Various potatoes on display ANL-161125-165342001

While the potato industry might, at first glance, appear to be a simple process of growing and distribution, it can in fact be a nebulous, logistical nightmare. It is an industry that shares as many problems and stresses as any other.

On the day there are four tables flush with potatoes of many different varieties, all with slightly different shapes, sizes, aesthetics and properties. Each table corresponds to a specific purpose, which are as follows:

• Firstly, pre-packs, which are the regular kinds we all find in supermarket bags. These larger spuds are usually baked or roasted and therefore have the most versatile properties.

• Secondly, the salad types – which tend to be smaller, rounder with a glazed finish – perfect for creamy potato salads.

• And finally the two processing varieties, that are specifically suited to becoming chips and crisps. These are the types best able to maintain an appetising colour and retain their shape after being fried or cooked, even at high temperatures.

Each variety is thoroughly tested to see where optimisation lies, to find out which of those four categories they best correlate with.

Solana already has varieties like Verdi already well established in the crisp market, and are now looking to push others too, like Edison for French fries, Baby Lou for salads and Belmonda for pre-packing.

This day is an industry attempt to simplify all those complicated processes and extract maximum face-to-face interaction time from those looking either to buy or grow the seed varieties that Solana produce.

The guests invited include farmers and representatives from companies that produce the goods we eventually see in shops.

It’s an international market drawing visitors from France, Germany and the Netherlands, and across the UK too, with guests coming from as far away as Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It’s a time and place where people who usually talk to each other via phone can meet face-to-face and conduct business transactions and ‘potato deals’ that the outside world doesn’t usually see.

The event was hosted by the Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research, located on the border between Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.

It is the leading specialist research facility for agricultural storage, and owned by AHDB (the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board). That organisation plays an important role in the national competitiveness of British agriculture.

It advises in how to make agriculture better and more efficient in all sectors of farming or food production.

And it provides individual growers with important market information in specific sectors like cattle, cereals, dairy products and of course potatoes.

It’s always fascinating when industries that might initially seem dull or anodyne are, once delved into more deeply, actually very complex.

The development, production and distribution of potatoes is one such example. And demonstration days like these are windows into that often hidden world.

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