Friday, 10 March 2017

Jersey Agriculture in 1981

Bernard Binnington

Today's blog is an extract on Jersey Agriculture from a report compiled by Nicholas Paines, covering the period June to December 1981. It is interesting that a Jersey-Beef mix which was suggested but resisted as an option is now permissible.

 Potato blight, mentioned in the article, is one of the worst disease problems for the potato grower. It can wipe out the plants almost overnight and, worse still, it can infect neighbouring potato crops both on an allotment and any nearby commercial crop if adequate precautions are not taken. The Jersey Royal is a blight susceptible variety.

1981 saw a disastrous outbreak of potato blight Jersey. The President of the Agricultural and Fisheries Committee, Bernard Binnington, told the States that “My Department has written to all registered growers of maincrop potatoes urging them to continue to apply routine treatments of anti-blight spray and offering advice on disease control measures."

Steve Luce

In 2016, Jersey's Environment Minister Steve Luce, said that farmers must change the way they grow Jersey Royal potatoes, in order to protect the Island’s reputation as a world-class food producer. Farmers currently use the century-old practice of growing Jersey Royal potatoes year after year in the same ground, but the discovery of the chemical oxadixyl in Jersey’s surface water supplies, 13 years after it was last used, means they need to rethink their practices. Oxadixyl was used up to 2003 to control potato blight.

Looking at the cattle story, and about the idea of interbred cattle. This eventually happened. In 2011, the first beef from the Jersey-Angus cattle went on sale. These have been bred since the importation of bull semen was allowed to strengthen the island herd. There are four cattle farmers based in Jersey who are producing mixed breeds, part Jersey cow, part Aberdeen Angus. The first batch came from La Caroline Farm in St Peter, run by farmer Richard Lee who said the meat was superb quality. It still feels strange to me to see these rather alien looking black cows on Jersey.

Agriculture in 1981
Compiled by Nicholas Paines

The economic problems of several sectors of agriculture are still a major worry. In August the States adopted an Agriculture and Fishery Committee proposal to make a 6p per gallon heating oil subsidy to glasshouse growers.

Backdated to 1 January, the subsidy was expected to cost £210,000 for 1981. The reason for the subsidy, Senator Bernard Binnington explained, is that the Dutch Government are subsidising their growers in breach of EEC law. Consequently the UK Government were subsidising UK growers, which would put Jersey growers at a disadvantage unless the island followed suit. The subsidy has now been increased to 10.7p per gallon from 1 October and extended to 31 May 1982.

The States also approved an amendment to the existing agricultural loans regulations raising the amount which the Agricultural Committee can lend without the approval of the Finance Committee from £50,000 to £75,000 per loan and providing that loans could be given for the purpose of converting from oil to coal. In a later debate in October, a further amendment to the regulations made possible 100% loans for energy-saving improvements.

As was rapidly becoming clear when I wrote the last newsletter, the 1980/1 potato season was a disaster. After an encouraging May, the June export figures, affected by constant rain and an attack of blight, were £1 million lower than in June 1980.

The JFU asked the Finance Committee for £600,000 compensation to enable growers to plough in fields of diseased potatoes. The committee felt that the request was premature and told growers they must continue to export. JFU President Mr Stan Morel asked for vigilance to prevent diseased potatoes being exported and destroying consumers' confidence in the crop.

Fortunately, in July, Ag. & Fish. President Senator Bernard Binnington was able to tell the States that the maincrop was largely unaffected by blight. Nevertheless, the average return on maincrop over the season was £100 per verge lower than production costs.

The Jersey Maincrop Potato Marketing Board abandoned the statutory minimum pricing system because of the impossibility of enforcement. Farmer and Deputy Hendric Vandervliet criticised the legislation which permits the export only of the Jersey Royal strain of potato. Though an excellent potato, the Royal is not a true 'first early' potato, but rather a 'second early' or 'early maincrop', he claimed.

Furthermore, tests he had carried out showed the Royal to be substantially more prone to blight than the Marts Peer variety, which cropped four times as heavily despite late planting. "Unless other varieties are allowed into the island, then the Jersey new potato industry as we know it is doomed", he concluded. At present, island legislation bans the export of the Marts Peer before 1 August each year.

Deputy Vandervliet's paper came to the attention of a UK company manufacturing coleslaw and potato salad, who are looking for a reliable source of potatoes in June. An island grower has applied for permission to supply the company with a 'second early' potato other than the Royal from a trial crop of 12 vergees. The company warned that if permission were not given, they would move the project to France.

Deputy Vandervliet told me recently that permission had been granted, a development which he welcomed. He is not involved with the grower concerned, whose name remains a secret, but he promised that as a member of Ag. & Fish, he would continue to press for the introduction of new varieties, as well as continuing to experiment with them privately.

Not all farmers agree with Deputy Vandervliet. In a letter to the JEP, retired grower Mr E. Le Breton points out that the Royal commands prices nearly twice those of its competitors "not because it is the first early potato on the market, or indeed the most attractive, but solely because the Royal has a very special flavour all of its own, and it is for this the English housewife is prepared to pay. Should the Jersey grower abandon his Royal for the earliest of English varieties, he would have very few weeks to sell his crop before being caught up with the same variety grown and marketed at far less cost by his English counterpart."

Deputy Vandervliet counters by saying that if the Royal were the best early potato, it would be grown in England, whereas in fact the UK growing industry has a poor opinion of it, whatever the UK housewife may prefer.

How much better off would Jersey growers have been in a year like 1981, if they had grown a different variety? What would Jersey be without the Royal? The last word in this debate had certainly not been spoken. Watch this space.

A working party set up by the JFU to investigate improvements to the early potato crop criticised the current group marketing system and pooling of prices as leading to a lowering of standards. Replies to a questionnaire sent out by the working party indicated that up to a fifth of the crop could be picked and graded by hand next year.

A group of potato growers, committed to higher quality and traditional methods, has been formed. Supporting the scheme, produce merchant Mr John Le Sueur asked "how can an English housewife enjoy a Jersey Royal which has been lying in a muddy field, had a tractor tyre rolled over it, been rattled over a harvester chain, laid out to dry on a tarpaulin, tipped into a bulb net, tipped into a store grader, placed in a paper sack and eventually placed on a market stall a week later? .If our forefathers saw us handling potatoes as we do now, they would disown us", he added.

The suggestion (reported in the last newsletter) of crossing Jersey cattle with beef cattle to produce an island beef herd has been supported in a letter to the JEP from Dr H.G. Hudson, chairman of the Council of Fellows of the Royal Agricultural Societies. In the UK the crossing of Jersey cows with Limousin bulls has been very successful, he wrote.

Two Jersey cows worth £1000 each have been given to the Prince and Princess of Wales as a wedding gift from the island. The balance of the sum raised in the island's royal wedding appeal is to be distributed to charities chosen by the Prince and Princess. In a handwritten letter to the Governor, Prince Charles asked him to thank the people of Jersey for their "most generous and cream-filled gift".

The Princess, incidentally, is descended from Georgiana Carolina, daughter of John, Lord Carteret and Earl Granville.

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