Dig­ging deeper into value-add

Potato farmer will ex­plore world­wide fresh-cut mar­kets with Nuffield

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Front Page - . CAS­SAN­DRA GLOVER Cas­san­dra.glover@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

PO­TA­TOES have al­ways been part of life for Wick­ham Farms man­ag­ing direc­tor, Kerri-Ann Lamb, who is en­deav­our­ing to fur­ther her knowl­edge of the in­dus­try with her 2019 Nuf­flied Schol­ar­ship.

Mrs Lamb is part of the third gen­er­a­tion to run Wick­ham Farms, which was started in Kil­lar­ney by her fa­ther Peter, un­cle An­gus and grand­fa­ther Merv Wick­ham.

“We’ve been sup­ply­ing po­ta­toes to su­per­mar­kets for over 50 years and we’ve been fresh cut­ting/value adding for over 20 years,” she said.

“We pre-pack brushed po­ta­toes for su­per­mar­kets, in­clud­ing Coles, and also value-add for food man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“Some of those food man­u­fac­tur­ers are Lite ‘n’ Easy or food ser­vices which look af­ter pubs and clubs, restau­rants, nurs­ing homes and board­ing schools.

“We also ser­vice some of the fast food restau­rants like Red Rooster and Siz­zler.”

Wick­ham Farms pro­duce around 11,000 tonnes of po­ta­toes ev­ery year across their farms in Kil­lar­ney, Clin­ton­vale, Gat­ton and the Ather­ton Table­lands in North Queens­land.

“We pro­duce about 6000 tonnes for re­tail and just un­der 5000 tonnes for fresh-cut as well,” she said.

“We also peel and cut pump­kins, onions and sweet potato for food ser­vice.

“We grow across a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent re­gions in Queens­land so we’re al­ways plant­ing and har­vest­ing some­where, just to keep our vol­ume con­sis­tent and have a year-round sup­ply.”

Mrs Lamb said Kil­lar­ney has the per­fect soil for grow­ing their va­ri­eties of po­ta­toes.

“We grow po­ta­toes in our rich, red soil for the brushed mar­ket. The va­ri­eties that we grow, are suited to the soil on our farms,” she said.

“We pre­dom­i­nantly grow in Queens­land, for Queens­land. That keeps our food miles down and keeps our prov­i­dence Queens­land.”

Mrs Lamb be­lieves the fu­ture for po­ta­toes is in the fresh-cut in­dus­try, which is why she has based her Nuffield re­search on in­ves­ti­gat­ing fur­ther into fresh-cut mar­kets across the world.

“I’m hop­ing to ex­tend my knowl­edge around what can we do to pre­pare our­selves for the fu­ture in the value-add space and what fu­ture prob­lems will we need to be solv­ing in tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion to stay com­pet­i­tive, be­cause the fresh-cut in­dus­try is grow­ing,” she said.

“In the su­per­mar­kets you see all the fresh-cut veg­eta­bles, the cat­e­gory is grow­ing. You’d be un­likely to buy a let­tuce now that is just a let­tuce. You’d prob­a­bly buy a packet of let­tuce or leafies that are mixed.

“I think pre-pre­pared fresh food is just go­ing to ex­plode in the fu­ture. We’re go­ing to have more nu­tri­tious and por­tion con­trolled, pre­pared or semi-pre­pared foods that we all buy from the su­per­mar­kets.”

Coun­tries that are lead­ing the way in the potato in­dus­try will be at the top of Mrs Lamb’s itin­er­ary.

“I’m look­ing at coun­tries that are in the potato space. So I’ll be trav­el­ling to Ire­land, Nether­lands, Bel­gium, France, Swe­den, Ger­many, the US and Canada and New Zealand,” she said.

“Coun­tries that are re­ally pro­gres­sive in their food ser­vice and food man­u­fac­tur­ing, and also have that di­verse grow­ers, and es­tab­lished food man­u­fac­turer sup­ply chains.

“They are way ahead of us in that space, es­pe­cially with po­ta­toes.”

Mrs Lamb said farm­ers will need to be pre­pared to up­date their prac­tices to work along­side food man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“As well as vis­it­ing grow­ers, I want to visit food man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­ves­ti­gate what so­lu­tions grow­ers can of­fer for the ease of sup­ply use of whole crop and con­tin­u­ous sup­ply,” she said.

“And where food man­u­fac­tur­ers can give grow­ers a fore­cast of what they’re plan­ning so the grow­ers can in­vest in their own busi­nesses.

“To ex­pand and grow dif­fer­ent prod­ucts or grow more of the same prod­uct, or in­vest in va­ri­eties that are best for the food man­u­fac­tur­ers, or va­ri­eties that have the least waste.”

Mrs Lamb said she is also in­ter­ested to see how other coun­tries are mar­ket­ing the nu­tri­tional value of po­ta­toes.

“Po­ta­toes are seen as a bit of a bad carb, they get a bit of a bad rap, but they are very nu­tri­tious,” she said.

“So that’s an­other fo­cus point, to see what other coun­tries have done to mar­ket the potato as a healthy al­ter­na­tive to other car­bo­hy­drates.”

Mrs Lamb said there is also a lot to be learned about pack­ing and pro­cess­ing ef­fi­cien­cies.

“Po­ta­toes are mainly ma­chine har­vested. Many years ago you’d pick them up in a bucket and put them in a crate. I guess it’s all a part of try­ing to get the process au­to­mated as much as pos­si­ble,” she said.

“There are a few more things you can do in the pad­dock to make the plant­ing and har­vest­ing more ef­fi­cient. But the real ef­fi­cien­cies are in the pack­ag­ing and pro­cess­ing when you’re able to size and grade, and then peel and cut.

“All that tech­nol­ogy is very well es­tab­lished in the Euro­pean coun­tries and there is a lot we can learn from them to repli­cate here.”

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

LEAD­ING EDGE: Kerri-Ann and Haydn Lamb of Wick­ham Farms pro­duce 11,000 tonnes of po­ta­toes a year.

CAS­SAN­DRA GLOVER PHOTO:

of man­ag­ing direc­tor Lamb is Kerri-Ann POTATO FARM: Wick­ham Farms.

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