The Jersey Royal Potato

stress on their environmental and social responsibility credentials. Both have been great supporters of the local produce promotion organisation, Genuine Jersey; the Jersey Royal Company has won awards for its environmental projects and for engaging the interest of school children in food and farming; Bartlett’s new packing station is the dernier cri in sustainable and environmentally friendly operation.

This brings the story up to date. If we assume that ‘business will continue as usual’, then the Jersey export potato industry is likely to continue on present lines, with, in Jersey, a continued decrease in the number of individual independent potato growers and further integration into the UK potato production market… all of which might have seemed very foreign and bizarre to previous generations of Jersey growers and farmers, but which is similar to the sort of tendencies happening everywhere. As far as the short-term future is concerned, then it must be acknowledged that the industry has evolved to take best advantage of present market conditions.

The length of time that ‘present market conditions’ might be expected to last, however, is a subject about which readers of this website might have a certain view. Many people are sufficiently aware of the cocktail of environmental difficulties forecasted for the mid- to long-term future; they do not need to be repeated here. However, among these is the threat of ‘peak oil’.  Whether or not the long-term geological depletion of oil is a justifiable fear for our own times or not, there is always a short-term risk that political events might suddenly deny the industrialised west its accustomed supplies of oil. Some event, for example, that might aggravate Iran, could lead to that government blocking the Straits of Hormuz and impeding oil export traffic from the Persian Gulf. A few days before writing this piece, Tony Blair’s evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry included a warning that the West might have to ‘take on’ Iran in the future in the same way that it took on Iraq… a chilling thought, not least for the economic implications.

Many writers have eloquently sketched out the consequences of an interruption in oil supplies, as regards, among much else, deficiencies of oil for agriculture, to operate machinery, to power transport and to import and to distribute food supplies. One can only suppose that Jersey, being one step further removed from the sources of global food supply, would be subject to increased difficulties as far as its food production and export are concerned.
The Jersey Royal industry is geared almost completely to export and to the UK supermarket trade. An interruption to oil supplies, even for any political or short-term reason, would be disastrous for it, and the disaster would only be compounded by any future environmental difficulty. Thus, with the best will in the world, the long-term success of any major potato export initiative from Jersey is something that needs to be questioned.

In Jersey, there are more than 90,000 people crammed into a small area of only a few square miles, and there is tremendous pressure to develop agricultural land for housing. It was difficult enough to feed the Island from its own productive capability during the wartime Occupation – when there was a population of only around 40,000 and the possibility of doing so nowadays – well, even if it were possible (as Colin Tudge might suggest), such a revolution is the stuff of nightmares, especially if forced upon the Island without sufficient or deliberate preparation.

In the past few years, Jersey, as elsewhere, has seen resurgence in interest in local food production, organic production, a diversification of agriculture, farm shops, and allotments. It is a start in what could be a change of direction to a more localised system of farming. If this trend were to be followed and accelerated in response to changed economic conditions, one might suppose that the export of potatoes would fall dramatically, and that the famous ‘Jersey Royal’ would be produced in far less volume, with the slack in land usage taken up by other crops and livestock, being produced for mainly local consumption. At the moment, potatoes from within the sterling zone have a certain sales advantage to potatoes grown in the euro zone, and this has helped the current improvement in the UK market for Jersey Royals, despite these reversionary times.

As far as local producers are concerned, they deserve a continuation of the present advantageous market factors – they have certainly worked hard enough for it.  Time will tell how long this resurgence will continue.
Assuming the future to be less than apocalyptic, it is feasible to foresee an improvement in Jersey as a holiday destination – less expensive to reach compared to other destinations in other currency zones, and the Jersey Royal, grown in a far smaller volume, perhaps organically, as a local speciality that is one of the treats of a spring or early summer holiday. If a mid to long-term exported trade were to continue, then it might most likely be as a gastronomic item prized by lovers of good food, to be sold, metaphorically speaking, not in the ‘bargain basement cash and carry’, but in the ‘charming delicatessen in the high street’ or in fine restaurants.

Whatever the future, the current arrangements for growing and exporting the Jersey are likely to be only an intermediate step in a continuing evolution of what is now justly referred to as ‘an industry’.

6 thoughts on “The Jersey Royal Potato

  1. good morning once again I am so disappointed in the flavour of jersey potatoes bought from the supermarket infarct no flavour at all , there wash them and bag them that s what we did not do years ago we had them dirty and the skins just rubbed off and a lovely jersey flavour when boiled but not now , they take to long to get to the shops after being picked , I spent 40 yrs. in the trade picking up jersey royal at Portsmouth and Southampton about 60 ton over the week on our lorries and delivering to Lancashire for 9 am the next day where they were in the shops for the customers , but it all takes to long now and the flavour is no longer in the potatoes .

  2. Hi,
    I , (and apparently others) googled ‘what’s gone wrong with Jersey potatoes ?’. When I started to read your glowing praise of the modern ‘Jersey’ I was about to launch into a moderately offensive reply. Having read on, I do take your point about that our food tastes are much different nowadays and I accept that my taste buds are pretty aged. For whatever reason I can’t now distinguish between ‘Jerseys’ and most early potatoes grown in England. I would not now cross the road to buy ‘Jerseys’. I’m another who worked for a fruit importer years ago so I take an interest. I’ve heard the seaweed stories and the timing seems right but perhaps you can comment on this?
    ‘Proper’ Jersey Royals were kidney shaped. There used to be two distinct varieties and the later crop ( similar to those available now) were not allowed to be called ‘Royals’. Answer that one!
    Regards, Graham.

    1. Hi Graham,

      So sorry that I have only just notice your comment on Jersey Royals. I am aware that the variety has to be called “International Kidney” if grown elsewhere than Jersey but not that this rule applied to a later crop – however you may well be right. My friend on Jersey tells me that many independent taste tests of the variety grown in Jersey versus elsewhere did show a distinct difference, but I’m not sure how much the terroir is really able to influence the crop nowadays. There were, until only a few years ago, a couple of small-scale producers who use the traditional seaweed fertiliser selling online but alas, no more. Now I think the only chance of tasting the potato is all its glory is from the farm gate on Jersey itself. But all potatoes taste best when freshly dug so perhaps that is what we should focus on rather than the variety!

  3. Jersey Royals are still gorgeous! But only those sold loose and with skins easy enough to rub away from the tuber with a thumb or thumbnail. Don’t bother with those truly tasteless, scrubbed and pre-packed ‘mini’ Jerseys: they do not deserve the name. I suspect that some marketing person, at some time, convinced others that these size ‘rejects’ could be sold in ‘bargain buy’ minipacks (no scraping necessary!). Unfortunately the really poor flavour of these offerings seems to be convincing some to turn away from Jerseys – what a shame. They do not know what they are missing! Mint, salt, boiled for 14 or so minutes they are truly food for the Gods!

  4. We bought some jersey royals in a farm shop the other day and they had the appearance of the real thing. Easily detachable skins, right coloured soil attached etc.but none of the flavour. I’m 73 and I know what they should taste like. Last time I tasted the true taste was about 5 years ago when we purchased some from Morrison’s in Worthing. They were the pre-packed cleaned type you say won’t have the taste. these did. At the moment we are trying them from Tesco bought 9th april 2017 so far no sign of the true flavour. I can still hear my mum sighing “Jersey Royals” when she brought the first ones home. Of course we been eating old potatoes for months by then. I always cook these things with salt so whose going to marked a flavoured salt that will give them the true flavour every time. Just a dream I suppose.

  5. I am 77 years old and I to notice, as others, the lack of flavour in the modern day Jersey Royal potatoes. maybe over produced? A suggestion say 10 of the 20 potatoes growers on Jersey need to crop rotate few years. Or stop messing around with the crop and get them to the retailer as soon as picked.

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