Demand for Jersey Bennes set to ‘go crazy’

Benne hill . . .  Armstrong and Co staff harvest Jersey Benne potatoes near Totara last week....
Benne hill . . . Armstrong and Co staff harvest Jersey Benne potatoes near Totara last week. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Demand for Jersey Benne potatoes is set to "go crazy" from next week, an Oamaru commercial grower says.

Armstrong and Co owner Peter Armstrong grows about 25ha of Jersey Benne potatoes on 140ha of land he owns and leases at Reidston and Totara.

The microclimate and nutrient-dense volcanic soils in North Otago gave Jersey Bennes a distinctive flavour. Nowhere produced a better-tasting product, he said.

The soft-skinned potato was a seasonal southern delicacy.

"Bluff has its oysters and North Otago has its Jersey Bennes."

Mr Armstrong’s passion for potatoes runs to personalised number plates on farm, which include P0TATO and POT8TO.

The harvest this season began early on November 1 and sales had been steady. If the weather played ball, about half the crop would be harvested in the fortnight before Christmas and the week before Christmas was "mad", he said.

"We are digging, digging, digging because all the shops are saying ‘we must have Jersey Bennes’ — they go crazy."

Finding staff to harvest potatoes during the Covid-19 pandemic was challenging but that issue had been resolved and he was having to turn down potential pickers every day.

He stagger-planted potatoes each month from May to November to spread the risk and get more young potatoes to market over a longer period.

Once harvested, the potatoes were trucked to a packhouse in Rakaia for distributing mostly to South Island supermarkets.

Those potatoes were marketed in supermarkets under five brands. He used to demand the name of his business appeared on every box but that was no longer the case.

Armstrong and Co owner Peter Armstrong. PHOTO: SRL FILES
Armstrong and Co owner Peter Armstrong. PHOTO: SRL FILES
"I don’t care today — I just want to sell potatoes," he said.

About six growers were producing Jersey Bennes in North Otago. His late father Bruce began growing Jersey Benne potatoes in the 1950s.

"I started picking them when I was 2 and started supplying the market when I was 7."

He hoped the rain would stay away between now and Christmas to ensure a "window of opportunity" to harvest remains open.

Picking of the delicate potatoes needed to stop when it rained.

"The minute you’ve got rain, you’ve got problems — it is almost boom or bust. Once Mother Nature takes over, you are along for the ride and it doesn’t matter how many years’ experience you’ve got, wet potatoes are wet potatoes."

Jersey Bennes should be eaten as fresh as possible, he said.

"If they are fresh, you can’t go wrong."

The potatoes left his farm "super fresh" in crates with black liners to keep them in the dark and in premium condition.

kHe was proud to be able to supply people with fresh, healthy produce, which also included cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

"After all these years of growing I still get satisfaction out of seeing produce heading out the gate."


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