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Secrets behind Black Isle's top tatties in TV spotlight as BBC show Landward pays a visit to Garguston Farm to reveal the appeal

By Alasdair Fraser

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Dougie Vipond, Johnnie Martin (centre) and Nick Nairn rustle up a spud-related treat for Landward episode 5 of 26 in the current 2021 series
Dougie Vipond, Johnnie Martin (centre) and Nick Nairn rustle up a spud-related treat for Landward episode 5 of 26 in the current 2021 series

THE humble tattie – and the Black Isle’s pivotal role in UK and world production – was showcased by the BBC’s Landward team this week at a celebrated Ross-shire farm.

Presenter Dougie Vipond and top Scottish chef Nick Nairn went to Garguston Farm above the north shore of the Beauly Firth in an effort to peel away some of the mystique surrounding the spud.

As well as cooking up some locally grown potatoes, they chatted with Johnnie Martin (51), one of the partners in a fourth generation family business first established by his grandfather in 1947.

As well as delving into the delights on offer at the farm’s popular Spud Hut vending outlet, the segment illuminated just how important Garguston and five other nearby farms are to the well-being of the entire potato industry.

Dougie Vipond and Nick Nairn
Dougie Vipond and Nick Nairn

Mr Martin, who farms around 250 acres of potatoes, explained: “The programme-makers were initially just looking for a place to shoot outdoors for the cooking show. It was a good showcase, less for our own business than for the Scottish seed potato industry as a whole.

“I tried to convey that 60 to 70 per cent of all Britain’s seed will originate, in the first year of production, in the Black Isle.

“In the UK, you can have no more than nine generations of potatoes for the supermarkets and elsewhere before they start the whole process again.

The Scottish Government releases what they call nuclear seed to mini-tuber producers, which are produced in year one in a controlled environment in compost or hydroponic greenhouses.

“We in the Black Isle – me and five other farmers – take those mini-tubers and plant them as first generation potatoes. It then exponentially multiplies, but starts at very low numbers.

“We are given them because the virus levels in the Highlands are the lowest in Europe, if not the world. Why are they low? Because aphids are the biggest transmitters of virus and we have hills to the west and are three sides surrounded by water in the Black Isle.

“We don’t have the multiplication of aphids and we have cold winters which kill them.

“It is an ideal micro-climate for producing high grade seed potatoes and that’s something we’re very protective of as an industry. In fact, we’re pressing the Scottish and UK to gain almost protected status.”

England is the biggest market, but Garguston’s prized seed potatoes go to places as far afield as Brazil and Indonesia.

On a lighter note, the Landward team also showcased the Spud Hut at Garguston Farm Cottages, impressively run and maintained by Mr Martin’s 13-year-old son Jamie.

Picture: The Spud Hut.
Picture: The Spud Hut.

Oversized potatoes unsuitable for seed potato use are snapped up eagerly by locals at competitive prices, along with other local produce from nearby businesses.

In all, the farm harvests 33 different potato varieties, but Spud Hut mainly sells Kerr’s Pink and Rooster spuds, with Jamie zipping to and from premises in an off-road field car.

Mr Martin added: “I’m delighted that the programme showcased the importance of the Black Isle and its wonderful, unique location for growing the more strictly-regulated, high grade seed potatoes.

“But it was just great to have Nick and Dougie up here – they’re good company, knowledgeable on their subjects, and they also promoted local pork from Cullicudden, cooking it in the garden, socially-distanced.”

The BBC programme Landward can also be seen on demand via the BBC iPlayer.

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