First published with The Age – http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/victorias-traditional-potato-patch-thins-out-as-imports-flood-market-20170505-gvz5xx.html
Feature image – Dylan Burns
For almost 50 years, Bernie White has grown potatoes in the rich, red, volcanic soil of Trentham.
Now he doesn’t know if his farm has a future.
“When I came to Trentham 48 years ago there were probably 40 growers in the district,” Mr White says. “Now there is probably only five or six left. That decline has cost many many jobs on farms and in businesses.”
As a third-generation potato farmer with 48 years of history on the farm himself, potato farming is a part of Mr White’s family history.
Most of the farms on his road have closed down.
“The only way we could fix the decline now is to stop the import of potatoes,” he said.
“There’s not too much future in spuds here,” said fellow potato farmer John Dunn.
“I suppose it disappoints me, but that is the way it is. We can’t compete with bigger companies.”
Trentham potato farmer George Wicker said there were multiple factors at work in the decline of local potato farms.
“Unless you are in a big operation, it is just not worth the effort, the time and the machinery. It used to be family operations and the problem is there is hardly anyone left to do it,” he said.
“But I do believe in the future. The good soil we have got is not being utilised. I think good fresh potatoes will be in short supply.”
Mr Wicker said passing farms down through the family is one of the only ways small local potato farms can continue.
“The cost of paying labour now and all the occupational health and safety and insurance makes it very hard to employ someone on the farm,” he said.
“Potato farming is important for family history and it’s part of community history too. Part of why Trentham is changing so much is that we are losing part of that family history in the community.
“It is sad, I feel sad about the decline of farms. But if we can promote fresh potatoes more and encourage people to buy fresh potatoes I think small farms will continue.”