Tobias Mattern opens a big wooden gate. A blue-white light shines throughout a hall that sits full with potato boxes.
Meeting a young German potato farmer – preparing for the next planting season
The boxes are stacked in rows almost up to the roof, and the lights hang between them. It feels a little futuristic but earthy at the same time. Tobias explains that he stores the potatoes in the hall over the winter. The light is designed to make the potatoes germinate slowly over the cold months, so that they are ready for planting at just the right time in spring.
Tobias is an open-minded young farmer from the Rhineland-Palatinate area in Southwest Germany. As a child, Tobias grew up on his family’s 100-year-old farm and later studied horticulture. Then in 2010, Tobias decided to take over the family farm from his father. Since the beginning, he has been passionate about cultivating all kinds of vegetables and some wheat on 120 ha.
“We specialize in growing potatoes on our farm. The machines for growing potatoes are very expensive. After deciding for a crop and investing in the machinery, you have to make sure that they are used to their full capacity,” Tobias explains while looking through the hall with the boxes. So to work profitably, Tobias and his father have to make sure that they grow healthy, marketable crops.
One challenge they face is a pest called the wireworm. This pest eats small corridors in the potatoes after planting. Once the potatoes are infested in most cases they-, cannot be sold anymore. “If the wireworm occurs, it means we have to limit our potato cultivation to suspend risk acreages – up to 25 percent.” With the wireworm lurking out in the fields, Tobias fears that too many of his potatoes could be damaged, threatening the viability of his potato business.
“Table potatoes are allowed to have maximum quality deficits up to 20 % here in Germany. If we don’t meet this standard, we can’t sell the whole harvest. That means I produce the potatoes, I have to harvest them and then stand in front of the deliverer who says: ‘That does not work.’ Then I have to close my trailer and take my potatoes back home and dump them on the field. That’s a major hit not just economically but also personally,” he clarifies.
The wireworm can however be treated with insecticides. “This is a type of ‘harvest insurance’ for us,” Tobias tells me. The only uncertainty for the future is the re-approval of some pesticides through the regulatory authorities in Germany. So I cross my fingers for Tobias and all the other farmers in the Rhineland-Palatinate area for the next years!
In the end, I ask Tobias about his favorite potato dish and he gets a big smile on his face: “My favorite potato dish is the Palatinate potato salad.” This local specialty is a made from cooked and thinly-sliced potatoes – spiced with salt, pepper, vinegar, onions and ham (here is a recipe). Back in the car, I’m suddenly hungry for some potatoes. It’s a good thing Tobias and his potato-filled hall are there to provide quality potatoes for me and others in the Palatinate region.