Ralph Leaper, former Farm Manager for Turvey Farms Ltd., knows everything about growing crops around Turvey from his long farming management career. In the 1980s, a Turvey farmer had commissioned an agricultural management firm based in Lincolnshire to select the crops for local fields so that a maximum profit could be achieved. They asked the farm manager which crops grew well in Bedfordshire. They were told potatoes, which is true. Unfortunately, the agents assumed potatoes could be grown which were uniformly smooth, standard shaped and to a particular size, based on their knowledge of Lincolnshire soil. The farm manager was told which variety of potato should be grown to be appropriate for making Golden Wonder crisps: estemer white (small to medium; thin, delicate white skin and white flesh; medium starch). They entered into a contract to deliver perfect potatoes which would ensure a very good profit for Turvey farms.
The management firm agricultural experts had not asked about, or checked, if Turvey soil was the same as Lincolnshire. As walkers will know, while Turvey soil is rich, it is also full of stones from the plentiful amounts of Great Oolite limestone which lie close below the top soil. Year one: several farms grew the designated potatoes, then shipped them to Golden Wonder under the contract. Their quality controllers rejected all the potatoes for being either too wonky or too bruised from the mechanical lifting machinery bumping them against the same stones. Potatoes only grow smooth, to a standard shape and a predictable size, in soil with no stones. Potatoes in Turvey fields grow around their stones to become charmingly wonky. Equally, standard harvesting machinery is likely to lead to delicate potatoes being bruised in Turvey’s stony fields. Finding another major purchaser for these potatoes was a challenge, because most other buyers also wanted smooth, unbruised potatoes. The result was that the whole crop was designated as animal food under a Government subsidy. To qualify for the protective subsidy, the potatoes were sprayed with a dye to ensure they could not be sold for human consumption. The estimated profit was not achieved.
Undaunted, the management firm experts suggested it was an unlucky year, so the farm manager should try again. Again the whole crop was rejected by quality controllers at Golden Wonder crisps. When this second crop was rejected, the management firm experts finally gave up on estemer white. They recommended growing a red potato variety for general use. Red potatoes have a slightly stronger skin which reduced bruising. Customers are more tolerant of wonky red potatoes. This decision was a success.