Extract from a recent Potato Growers Anonymous Meeting in Lincolnshire:
Would you introduce yourself to the group, please?
Hello, my name is Matthew and I am addicted to potato growing.
I became hooked when I was a teenager. It started with just a few bags on an allotment but by the time I was in my late 20s I was doing thousands of tonnes a year. The habit has cost me a small fortune. It has hurt my family and cost me relationships and my health. I put potato growing before everything else.
I look back at times my friends were partying and having fun while I was off-my-face harvesting. I need help. Unless I learn to control this habit, I could lose everything – even my home.
Potato growing was part of the culture on the estate where I was born, The Crown Estate. Everyone was doing it. My father and grandfather were both addicts.
In those days, you could buy fertiliser on the street corners. You would see children as young as 12 standing on potato graders chuting clods. It’s sickening really. Some of my school friends escaped, they got out to the safety of the city, but they were the lucky ones. I was weak; I saw the big potato growers with their Range Rovers and their Grimme harvesters and I wanted to be part of that glamorous underground world.
Before long, I was in the grip of the potato dealers. I thought I was in control, but looking back they were controlling me. I know that I shouldn’t have bought their seed but planting it always felt so good.
“I saw the big potato growers with their Range Rovers and their Grimme harvesters and I wanted to be part of that glamorous underground world” Matthew Naylor
I thought that I had turned a corner in about 2000. The authorities got an analyst to help me, he put figures in front of me to scare me. He showed me farm dispersal sales where addiction had finished some farmers off completely. I cut my acreage back and even spent time with wheat growers to try to be “normal.” Their lives seemed dull and bourgeois though; they lacked the thrills of the potato guys and I never felt as though I fitted in with them.
Eventually I went into group therapy with some fellow addicts in a grower co-operative to manage my habit. Things were going well and life stabled out, but then in 2012 the market relapsed and we all went on a massive high. We had a wild spree, charging up to £500/t for our crop and just went into self-destruct mode. It started with cultivators, then Fendts and before long we were even building reservoirs.
The problem is that when you are on a potato high, you feel invincible. The rush is unbelievable. This is when the turf wars started. Soon we were fighting over land – spending more and more on rent. The whole area became a potato ghetto. The streets were thick with mud and there were disused potatoes laying at every junction and street corner.
The situation here only seems to be getting worse – the deals being done on the spot market are getting more and more dodgy. Some parts of south Lincolnshire are no longer safe for non-potato growers.
I keep thinking: “Just one more year and I can sort this.” Looking back, I should have never started, but now it’s too late.
If my story can change just one young person’s life then that’s something. Please don’t end up like me. If you are offered potato seed, “Just say No”.
Matthew farms 162ha (400 acres) of Lincolnshire silt in partnership with his father, Nev. Cropping includes potatoes, vegetables, cut flowers and flowering bulbs. He is a Nuffield scholar.
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