The name of “Ayrshire Earlies”, which are harvested months before traditional types of potato and have been endorsed by chefs including Jaqueline O’Donnell and Nick Nairn, could become protected - which would stop any potato farmers outside of Ayrshire from using the name - if the European Union gives the go ahead.
Girvan Early Growers - a group of local farmers who specialise in growing early potatoes - has submitted the application for the vegetable, which are harvested from the beginning of May until the end of July and are known for their “soft skin and distinctive strong earthy nutty flavour”.
In the application, the farmers said: “Ayrshire Potatoes have the long-standing reputation of marking the start of supply of new Scottish season potatoes. Many factors are said to have influenced the flavour of the Ayrshire New Potatoes/Ayrshire Earlies including light coastal soil, mild climate, fertilisers and speed of delivery to markets.”
Michael Jarvis, spokesman for Albert Bartlett potatoes, which is a major customer of the Ayrshire Earlies and has supported the application, said: “It would be a coup for the potatoes to be granted this status. The only others in the UK are Jersey Royals. These potatoes have a special flavour from being grown in Ayrshire, due to the soil.”
Due to its light sandy soil, sheltered beaches and early warming by the Gulf Stream, farms in Ayrshire have always been able to plant their crop a few weeks earlier than in other parts of Scotland, harvesting potatoes in mid-autumn.
However, in 1857, two Ayrshire farmers called Dunlop and Hannah visited the Channel Islands to study how farmers there managed to grow potatoes so early in the year.
Two years later, after some experimentation, Ayrshire Earlies were grown and sold on a commercial basis. In 1881 a new method to help cultivate potatoes earlier called sprouting, was also pioneered and this was taken up and implemented in the area by many Ayrshire farmers, allowing potatoes to be planted as early as February.
The Scotsman’s sister paper, the Edinburgh Evening News, mentioned potato production being “extensively practiced along the coast on the light and early soils” as early as 1857.
The UK government said it had applied to the EU to get Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for the product.
“National consultation has been completed and there are no outstanding objections,” it said.
The EU will only give a product the PGI mark if experts decide that it has a reputation, characteristics or qualities that are a result of the area it is associated with.