Worth more than £4bn, the potato industry is an important player in the UK farming sector and the wider economy, but in recent years employee recruitment has been challenging.

In 2013 a new scheme to muster up new entrants was kick-started on the back of a Potato Council survey that found 60% of farms and over 75% of supply-chain businesses were struggling to hire high-quality people.

How to apply

The application process for the 2016-17 Next Generation Programme has just been launched. Interested applicants are asked to prepare a short video entry for consideration. Full details are now available online. Submissions will be accepted from 12 November 2015 until the deadline of 31 January 2016, with the 15 successful applicants announced by the end of February 2016.

“In April this year we launched the Next Generation programme,” says AHDB Potatoes technical executive Hannah Goodwin.

An access-all-areas experience was granted to 15 entrants to the spud sector, allowing them to see everything from growers and packers to the vast processing industry and the seed potato business.

“It gives valuable context and a bigger picture of how this innovative industry works and fits together. Now we are looking for 15 more entrants to join this exciting programme,” she adds.

Emma Kelcher, 26

Potato technical manager, Spearhead Marketing, Cambridgeshire

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Emma Kelcher, potato technical manager, Spearhead Marketing, Cambridgeshire

Making her debut in the potato industry while still studying at Harper Adams University, Emma Kelcher says she has a varied life in her role as a potato technical manager.

“The sorts of things that I look after include customer projects, variety agronomics and trials, seed procurement, third-party crop monitoring and traceability. 

“I first got into the potato industry when I was at university, doing a work placement with Cambridge University Farm and I was so interested in potatoes that it ended up as the focus of my dissertation.”

She comes from a mixed family farm in Northumberland, with a herd of beef cattle and arable cropping consisting of barley, wheat and oats.

“Coming from a farming background it’s always going to be in me and I was also interested in and enjoyed the agronomy side of things. It’s a varied life in this industry and there are so many opportunities to grab and lots of experience to be gained.

“The Next Generation programme has been very beneficial for me in learning about the different areas of the potato sector.”

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Douglas Charlton, 27

Farms procurement manager, Albert Bartlett, Scotland

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Douglas Charlton, farms procurement manager, Albert Bartlett, Scotland

Having now worked in the industry for more than six years, Douglas Charlton has been in his current job as farms procurement manager at Albert Bartlett for four months.

Although not from a farming family, he studied agriculture at Newcastle University and helped out on the farms of friends.

He works in the field team at Albert Bartlett which is well integrated with their grower group. His main responsibilities are monitoring crops, including Albert Bartlett-branded exclusive varieties and assisting with the inward supply of potatoes to their packhouses and sales to other customers.

“The programme has helped me get through doors that might have otherwise been closed to me and I’ve met a lot of great people in the industry.

“Potatoes are a global commodity and there is a lot of opportunity in this industry. The UK potato sector is well placed globally, so it is very exciting to play a part in all that.”

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Bryonie Cundy, 27

Field manager, Nene Potatoes, Lincolnshire

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Bryonie Cundy, field manager, Nene Potatoes, Lincolnshire

The desire for a new challenge in life saw Bryonie Cundy start her potato career three years after graduating with a print journalism degree from Nottingham Trent University.

“I have absolutely no background in farming or food but I wanted a new challenge and it was the huge variety of the work involved in the industry that attracted me,” she explains.

As a field manager Bryonie is responsible for producing a storage survey at harvest which entails taking daily quality samples of the crop coming out of the ground.

She also looks after grower compliance, rejection and deduction information, order confirmations, passports, the website and newsletter as well as variety trials on different soil types.

”I’m really enjoy learning about this industry, especially because I’m not from a farming background,” she adds.

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Simon Leaver, 34

Commercial manager, Fylde, Fresh & Fabulous, Lancashire

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Simon Leaver, commercial manager, Fylde, Fresh & Fabulous, Lancashire

Having worked at the company for 12 years now, Simon Leaver says he has never had a boring day in his career.

After studying economics and politics at Lancaster University, he says he was glad to get into the potato sector.

“I sort of fell into the industry, it wasn’t a conscious decision that I made to work in the potato sector, but I’m glad I did.

“I was given the freedom to make decisions and also make mistakes and learn from them. It suited me because I’ve always been keen to push myself out of my comfort zone,” he says.

“It is a business that is always evolving and keeps me interested with the risks, challenges, volatility. It is quite exciting and the thrill of it keeps me interested.”

The company supplies peeled, sliced and diced potatoes to ready meal producers and fish and chip shops and over the years Simon has worked in finance, sales, transport and procurement areas.

“The programme is great and I would encourage others to join it. You get to see the many different areas of the industry, areas you wouldn’t necessarily otherwise interact with and there’s a broad range of backgrounds, experience levels and ages.”