Digging deeper into value-add
Potato farmer will explore worldwide fresh-cut markets with Nuffield
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.”
LEADING EDGE: Kerri-Ann and Haydn Lamb of Wickham Farms produce 11,000 tonnes of potatoes a year.
of managing director Lamb is Kerri-Ann POTATO FARM: Wickham Farms.