#ThankAFarmer for potato treats we can’t get enough of
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#ThankAFarmer for potato treats we can’t get enough of

Category Client Stories

Terry Buckley

Chances are, next time you reach into that moreish bag of potato chips, they’re made from potatoes grown with the utmost care and consideration from the Buckley’s Mingbool district farm.

As one of South Australia’s larger potato growers, Terry Buckley, together with partner Jackie, brother Wayne and parents Jeff and Faye, grows 22,000 tonnes of spuds annually, the majority used to supply McCains, Smith’s and Unigrain.

Hailing from fifth generation potato growers Terry has dedicated his life’s work to producing the perfect potato for chips, fries, hashbrowns and other potato-based products – mindfully balancing the needs of the soil, environment and of course, the consumer.

And it’s a passion reflected in the quality of his produce – literally.

Explaining that when you hold a crisp to the sun, you can see its life story – Terry said the lifeline and quality is imbedded in rings similar to that of tree trunk.

“If its growing conditions are perfect you will see an even toned, round and consistent chip,” he said. “If there’s uneven growth, any variance in colour or clear windows on the chip this will signify uneven growth or potentially plant health problems.”

In a testament to the consistency in quality across the Buckley’s farms their potatoes were selected by Smith’s to supply the holy grail – the ‘gold standard’ crisp.

“These are the chips used for quality control at the Smith’s factories, and set the benchmark for the chips being produced daily.”

“There is a panel of four who sniff them, taste them, crunches them, holds them up to the light – you name it, it’s serious business – like wine tasting, but for chips!” Terry laughs.

Previously these gold standard chips were supplied by US producers, but are now supplied by the Buckleys and a Queensland producer – with Terry’s chips easily clearing the US Gold Standard benchmark, as tested in Dallas, Texas.

Of the Buckley’s potatoes, 7,000 tonnes go to Smith’s chips for use mainly in the premium Red Rock Deli Chips, 5,000 tonnes go to McCains largely used for McDonalds fries, and 8,000 tonnes is sold overseas to potato crisp manufacturers in Manilla, Hong Kong, Seoul and Jakarta.

A further 2,000 tonnes of seed potatoes are produced, the majority used back on the Buckley’s farms.

Never afraid to challenge the status quo or question convention, experimenting with soil health and growing conditions has afforded Terry a unique know-how into potato production, and he happily credits science, Mother Nature and a few alternative methods as the key to his success.  

“For the past three decades our focus has been on getting the soil nutrient balances and ratios correct, and the rest tends to look after itself.”

Keeping the soil loose by shallow rotary hoe cultivation, followed by minimal deep tine cultivation also allows the potatoes to expand as they need, preventing green spuds.

Spuds are no longer sown into 85 cm rows, which is Australian practice, but into flat, six row beds of loose soil for greater temperature and moisture consistency.

Terry has changed his spacing configurations to further increase efficiency, and extra rows within the beds have been established, with tubers planted further apart so they can now set more tubers per plant to achieve higher yields of the right sized product.  

Jackie’s ability to formulate all of the fertiliser mixtures – which often include seaweed and fish emulsions, as well as a range of trace elements – also ensures a complete and balanced plant health and growth profile.

Healthy plants also mean less insect damage, as Terry has discovered.

“I used to think bugs were just here to annoy me, but the more I watch and learn I now know that it’s the stressed plants they’re after – so by maintaining plant health we essentially eliminate our pest problem.”

Keeping air in the soil also helped preserve the fungi population, which subsequently helps control potato disease issues, which often occur in anaerobic conditions.

“It’s fascinating to take a step back and see how everything complements each other, the pieces of the puzzle  really come together once you go down that regenerative path.”

Smiling that he’s not sure if his success is due to vision or just plain good luck, the next chapter for the business as it steps into what Terry believes will be ‘a very exciting time in history’ – is perhaps the clearest indication that the Buckley’s success is anything but luck.

“The needle is shifting due to climate change and Covid and it appears that large companies supplying food to the world are taking note of consumers – who are finally indicating that they’re prepared to pay a little extra for food that is sustainably produced, and not degrading our environment.”

“Two years ago, if you had the cheapest produce you mostly finished up with the contract, but as producers I don’t think we’re far off a sustainability standard requirement to access some markets - cheaper will no longer be king,” he said.  

As such, after 30 years of holistic management the family is perfectly placed to further capitalise on its regenerative practices, with the supply chain already heeding the consumer preference for sustainably produced food.

“Recently one of our suppliers indicated that they would be financially rewarding those on the sustainability path, with produce assessed and graded on its use of chemicals and inputs,” Terry explained.

“I believe there’s a very strong move towards regenerative farming, with scores likely to be set against positive and negative inputs into the potato production cycle, and the idea would be to keep the score as low as possible, with payment incentivised depending on how successfully you can achieve the desired target.”

And Terry believed Australian farmers would be well-placed under this new system.

“Ironically Australia’s success is due to its lack of water and lower soil standards,” he said. “Without the ability to irrigate extensively, as they do in other countries, we have to work smarter, which has consequentially resulted in a more sustainable food production system.”

“We’re now in a great position here in Australia to embrace this change and help contribute to meaningful environmental outcomes. Our input and fumigation rates are vastly lower than in the US and Europe, so our growers are already ahead of the game, and it’s a very exciting time for the industry.”

And, it’s a fantastic time none-more-so for the Buckley family, who we have to thank for instigating so many efficiencies and sustainable innovations in the growing of our Aussie spuds.

And whether they’re a smoko staple or just a treat, thank you Buckleys for deliciously crunchy and quality chips – one packet is just never enough!

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