It may be too wet for machinery to travel on land across much of mainland Britain, but potato planting is well under way just across the water in Jersey.

Their iconic southern-facing slopes looking out to sea, and the beaches of Normandy, are so steep they still have to be worked by hand but planting is progressing in between the showers, says director of sales and marketing William Church.

The Jersey Royal Company harvests 1,400ha in total, with a planting season that spans four months from January through to April, but just 40ha of the crop is in the ground so far at this very early stage.

See also: Cultivating potato tramlines cuts water and soil losses

A sloping potato field in jersey

© Jersey Royal Potato Company

The earliest outdoor fields planted are the very steep south-facing coastal slopes called côtils. Because of their steepness, aspect and proximity to the coast the soil is generally light, free draining, warms quickly and has some frost resistance.

Agricultural workers in Jersey potato fields

© Jersey Royal Potato Company

The steepness means they are ploughed and planted using hand ploughs pulled by a winch cable from the top of the côtil. These fields are very labour intensive however, produce the earliest potatoes.

The next fields to be planted are generally the lighter sloping fields followed by the heavier inland areas.

Early potatoes are planted in Jersey

© Jersey Royal Potato Company

Up to 200 seasonal staff are employed at peak points through the season with some coming to help for as little as three weeks while others will stay for as long as six months.

Harvesting will commence from the end of March, with the majority of the land which can be worked by machinery turned over to grass leys and maize afterwards to feed dairy cattle.

Workers planting potatoes in Jersey

© Jersey Royal Potato Company

Mr Church said that other fields which need fertility building will be put down to cover crops.

The company is also bearing down on potato cyst nematode on all fronts, with hot mustard being planted for biofumigation, and prickly potatoes as a trap crop to cause a premature hatch of the cysts ahead of a commercial potato crop.

Planting potatoes in a field in Jersey

© Jersey Royal Potato Company

Jersey potato facts

  • Planting January-April
  • Harvest Late February in limited volumes from the glasshouses and polytunnels. Earliest outdoor crops are available from early April through to the end of July
  • Area grown About 1,800ha/year across 1,800 fields
  • Production Produce and pack about 20,000t/year