Cornish New potatoes: Planting, growing and harvesting in the South West

1st Jun 2020

FG Pryor & Sons is a major supplier of Cornish New potatoes, so as harvest gets into full swing, everyone on the farm is kept busy. Colwyn Farm has been run by the Pryor family since the late 1800s and Philip and his wife Denise are longstanding members of Branston’s Producer Group in the South West.

They grow around 1,300 acres of potatoes across Cornwall, working with the natural landscape as they have done for generations. 

Planting starts here as early as January in the smaller fields that slope down to the coast. This year’s conditions weren’t ideal, but with the benefit of the Gulf stream and the breeze off the sea keeping the land here largely frost-free these earliest Cornish New potatoes can be ready as early as mid-April.  

February 2020 was the wettest on record for the UK and this meant a lull in planting in most areas. In fact, the Pryors couldn’t plant anything between 8th February and 12th March because conditions were just too bad. Instead they chitted their seed in trays so that it would have a head start as soon as they were able to get back on the land. From this point onwards they were planting on any dry day that they could. The latter part of March was an extremely busy time for planting. It was followed by a warm April with plenty of sunshine and just enough rain to help the plants flourish.  

From early May harvesting starts in the fields around Penzance. Fluffy-skinned, buttery-fresh tasting Cornish New potatoes: only available locally at first but then start trickling out nationwide, as everyone wants to get that first taste of summer spuds. Much of the early harvesting is done by hand to protect the delicate skins and make sure they can get the most out of these smaller more geographically challenging areas.  

Once the potatoes in the larger fields inland are ready, they’re able to use harvesting machines. These will speed up the process and mean they can harvest enough Cornish New potatoes to supply supermarkets nationwide. They’ll harvest as the orders come through to make sure that the crops are as fresh as possible, but as gently as possible to protect the delicate spuds and the fertile fields.    

The Pryor family work hard to balance their farming activities with the natural environment. They’ve been particularly focusing on soil health - moving away from intensive farming and working towards improving and maintaining long term sustainability. Philip Pryor says: “I want to hand the land over to the next generation in the same or better state than it was handed to me.”  

The couple’s son Warwick and daughter Amy are actively involved in the farm and they’ve been learning about working with the land from a very early age. As Philip says: ‘They’re the future and it’s important for them to understand how to look after the farm and the soil that we rely on for the generations to come.” 

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