Name: John Stanley
Work: Morton Smith Dawe
Seed Merchant: potato, pink fir apple, fertilisers, garden green crops, lawn seed, yam, garlic, broad beans, pea, shallots and asparagus crowns.
How long have you been in the potato industry and what has your involvement been? I’ve been in the industry for 34 years, as a merchant. I have worked with Eurogrow & AB Annands, before making the move to buy into partnership with Morton Smith Dawe.
What compelled you to move to the Morton Smith Dawe business? I was actually due to retire and had plans to go caravanning around the country with my wife. We did one lovely trip to the Nelson region and then back at home, I found myself mowing the lawns every second day and wondering “what the heck will I do now?” I heard that the previous owner of MSD was ready to sell his share of the business and I decided to get involved. I bought my share and am now business partner with his son Grant Dawe. My wife Glenda is involved a little as well with some office work.
How did the idea for Māori seed come about? Is it a first for MSD? No, no, MSD already had Maori seed, in limited supply. Heritage seed can be very difficult to grow and we are still very much trialing yields. The plant is probably very close to the wild form of potato, it has never been cultivated or evolved very much for commercial purposes. We are currently trying to strengthen stock enough for commercial growing. The growing interest is from smaller-scale growers, organic gardeners & the home gardener. There has definitely been increased consumer demand for it. There’s not enough to meet that demand at present.
What is the provenance of the seed varieties you have? The varieties have been with local seed growers in small volume for no more than ten years and have been in storage as tissue culture mostly. We have 6 varieties ready.
How did you go about choosing varieties to grow for seed? We just went with what was available.
Will you be using the Māori names? Yes: huakaroro, karuparera, kowiniwini, moemoe, waiporoporo and whataroa. We are also now growing urenika seed but it’s not yet for sale.
Why head down the path of growing Māori/heritage seed? There has been a growing interest from the market and also we felt we wanted to give it a go, as it had been in storage for a few years and we were given the chance to buy the tissue cultures.
Any specific methods for growing these heritage potatoes? Give them plenty of space. They tend to be quite unconventional looking plants and low growing. Not like the commercial tall plants we are used to seeing in the field.
What are the challenges of growing these varieties, if any? They take longer to mature (110-130 days) compared to the usual average 100 days. That means 3 weeks longer in the ground, which makes them a higher risk for psyllid. We may find they are less resilient to pests. That remains to be seen.
When will growers be able to purchase Māori seed at the store? From this mid-June 2019. We have orders from garden centres already. We’ve made a new catalogue which is in every shop & garden centre.