Lovely Laura has great taste
Picture: Iain Gillespie

Potato grower Glen Ryan has a thing about Laura. Boiled, mashed or roasted, his favourite spud always comes up trumps.

"It's got the best flavour, texture and structure of all the varieties," he said. "You can do anything with it. Royal blue is currently the standard bearer, but people we've given Laura to say it's better; even chefs. When mashed, it already looks like it's got butter in it - and it's the only one I bring home to eat. Even those who love Delaware because of the flavour say Laura is better."

Mr Ryan and brother Dean have been growing potatoes for more than 30 years on part of the 512ha family farm started by their parents in the late 1950s near Pemberton. He said they weren't expected to take over the business but family ties and the scenic landscape with the Warren River running through the property lured them back. "In fact, our parents never encouraged us to take this on but I guess it's in your blood," he said. "I finished school and took a gap year, then ended up staying. Dean came straight back to the farm after Year 12."

The brothers grow 11 varieties, including several under trial for better eating and cosmetic qualities. Red-skinned Laura has a rich yellow flesh and finally made it after four seasons, with production now close to 20 tonnes a week. "We thought it had a fair bit of promise pretty much from the start but had problems planting it up because the seed line was discontinued," Mr Ryan said. "It was trialled in South Australia and they had trouble with it because the skin would peel away, but we've largely managed to get around that. I think once it gets going, it will become the new standard bearer because it's such a good allrounder - and that's what people want."

There are more than 20 potato growers in the Southern Forests region, which produced 19,911 tonnes - just over 38 per cent - of WA's crop last year. All are around Pemberton and Manjimup. Mr Ryan said the farm was licensed to grow 3500 tonnes a year, with Nadine by far the biggest crop, but that was expected to change as different "make-do" varieties and trial crops succeeded. Maranca, Jelly, Sifra, Mozart and Senna were in the pipeline for commercial production down the track.

"Nadine is a white-skin and flesh variety, but the flavour is traditionally in the creamier-to-yellow-flesh varieties," he said.

"When I started, Delaware was the only variety we had and it was the standard bearer for a long time. It's a great potato when it comes to taste, texture and versatility; one that's good for boiling, mashing and roasting, but it did not handle the washing process well and the shape can be questionable.

"We haven't grown it for 10 years. Unfortunately, consumers go a lot on appearance - they want their potatoes to look like apples, all shiny and bright - and that can be extremely frustrating for a grower.

"At the moment, Nadine ticks all the right boxes in that it washes up magnificently, looks the part and has pretty good yields but we're looking at better potatoes with our trial lines, so things will change as new varieties make the grade."

The West Australian

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