Dave Pick, Airy Hill Farm, Scarborough

Dave Pick, as his father did before him, proudly grows potatoes for McCain Foods. Marrying into the Sutton farming family, he’s now based at Airy Hill Farm, farming one thousand acres of prime North Yorkshire and East Riding potato growing country on the doorstep of the McCain factory in Scarborough.

McCain caught up with Dave as part of a series of films and interviews documenting the potato growing calendar through the eyes of McCain’s farming partners. Here, he explains the importance of chitting, which is the process of encouraging a potato to sprout by placing it in a temperature and light controlled environment.

“The build up to the perfect chit starts in January when we receive a delivery of McCain seed potatoes from Scotland. We then decant the seed potatoes into trays for around 2 months until the potatoes are well sprouted, or chitted, and ready to go into the ground when the weather is warmer.

“Our job as farmers, is essentially to harvest the sunshine, and chitting helps us to do this because it helps us to achieve the maximum crop canopy for the longest day. All of this helps us to grow the best quality potatoes for McCain, and gives us time to harvest the potatoes before the winter weather arrives. All of this usually takes place between 1st April and 5th November but is always dependent on the weather.  In an ideal year I’ll have all my potatoes safely tucked up in storage by bonfire night.

“My father delivered one of the first loads of potatoes to the McCain plant in Scarborough in 1968, and I’ve continued to grow potatoes for McCain ever since. Hopefully my son James will now come into the family business and continue our tradition with McCain for years to come.”

Want to learn more about Airy Hill Farm?

Potatoes are a major crop for Airy Hill Farm but Dave Pick also grows wheat barley, oil seed rape, spring beans, and stocks cattle and pigs. This diverse crop rotation keeps his soil in top condition. To grow the very best potatoes Dave also works closely with the agriculture team at McCain to test the soil before planting, choosing specific varieties to match the different soil types found in different areas of the farm.

To maximise crop yield from all growing areas, Dave uses tractors fitted with GPS to map the field and work out how many beds can be accommodated. While once upon a time a bed may have been marked out using the human stride, now nothing is left to chance. This drive for efficiency also has a positive effect on the environment, helping to minimise the use of fertiliser as beds don’t overlap.

When the potatoes are finally harvested a new energy efficient computer controlled store helps to keep them in the best condition, by regulating temperature and airflow until they are ready to be made into potato products.

Dave’s pride in working closely with the environment doesn’t end there, with four wind turbines generating sustainable energy for the farm, and a series of ponds dug to encourage migrating birds to come in off the North Sea and make their home on the land. Two metre strips are maintained at the boundary of each field to encourage bio-diversity, and a regular process of hedge trimming helps to create a welcoming habitat for wildlife.