By Lisa on Feb 06, 2013 with Comments 2
After a 15 minute drive from my home in Alcudia, I arrive in Europe’s potato capital: Sa Pobla. This town is the centre of Mallorca’s agricultural world, where the potatoes grow in abundance under the Mediterranean sunshine in the rich Sa Pobla earth.
The locals call it a “miracle of the land” because the potatoes in Sa Pobla can be harvested up to three times every year without much need for crop rotation and the need for leaving the land fallow.
Sa Pobla is the place where everything grows, not just potatoes, and in the summertime as you drive through the countryside here it’s like an extravagant show of what nature is capable of; each field filled with brighter colours and larger fruit than the next. Aside from the potatoes, Sa Pobla is most well-known for its Ramallet tomatoes.
We were lucky enough to have a guided visit and in-depth talk at Esplet; the main potato producer and exporter of Sa Pobla, a company that has been around for decades and which first started exporting potatoes in 1924, when the started sending the Royal Kidney variety to Britain.
This company is Mallorca’s biggest exporter of potatoes and is Spain’s biggest exporter of potatoes to the UK. Spain is one of the biggest worldwide exporters of potatoes so jus try to get your head around how many potatoes are grown in the little town of Sa Pobla.
At Esplet, our small group was introduced to Raquel, the head of quality control at the installation and she took us upstairs to a classroom/conference room where they have a huge screen ready for giving presentations.
We were treated extremely well while we were at Esplet and for Raquel, no question was too silly and nothing too much trouble to find out for us.
She gave us some very interesting insights to their business of exporting potatoes from Mallorca, to the UK and Germany.
Did you know that British supermarkets like Maris Peer potatoes and they like them small, new and washed? You do now!
They are the biggest potato producer in Mallorca, producing 19,000 of the island’s annual 35,000 tonnes of potatoes and of the total of 23,000 tonnes of potatoes that Mallorca exports, 14,000 tonnes come from Esplet.
They also sell potatoes right here in Mallorca even though it is much less profitable. We were told that the profits made from selling potatoes in Mallorca in one year are equal to those from selling to the UK in under a week! Despite this they are neglecting the local market a lot less than the potato growers have done in the past, saying that if the Mallorcan people are demanding their own potatoes from Sa Pobla then they have a right to them.
And it’s true that in the supermarkets in Mallorca we are starting to see more and more potatoes from the island but sometimes I still have no choice other than to buy French potatoes.
After the very interesting presentation, we were taken to see how it all actually happens:
It turns out that there is more to exporting a potato than you probably think…
First you have to contend with the farmers and their “island mentality”! From the way that our guide presented the details, it was clear that many farmers in Sa Pobla aren’t ready to embrace the new millenium and that they still use the same techniques that their fathers and grandfathers before them used. While there’s nothing wrong with that if you are growing potatoes just for your own family, things are a bit different when you are intending to export 14,000 tonnes!
Traditionally in the farming families of Mallorca it was the less intelligent children that would work on and eventually take over the farms, because the desire of the family was to get their children away from farming life and to go to university in the big far away city of Palma (a 40 minute drive). According to what we learnt at Esplet, many farmers still have the attitude that their son or daughter is too good for the farming life that they lead themselves.
As a result of this there was a big decrease in recent years of farmers (and therefore potato production) as the new generation rejected the work that their families had done for years, especially as the jobs in the tourism industry became plentiful and they had the choice to opt out of farming.
However, this decline has recently been replenished with new, eager farm hands in the form of immigrant workers that arrive on Mallorca with few qualifications and language skills and a need to feed their families.
Esplet does not have the land to produce the number of potatoes that are in demand so local farmers sell their crop to the factory. The potatoes are organised into varieties and are brought on trailers that are weighed and payment is according to weight and variety. There is a rigorous selection process and farmers have to adhere to EU regulations.
On the packaging for potatoes that are to be exported, the name of the farm and the farmer appear as well as the details of Esplet. I think that’s quite endearing really; you might be buying your Maris Peers in Tesco and if you take the time to read the bag you will see that your potatoes were lovingly cared for by Jaume of Can Jaume, Sa Pobla, Mallorca.
Anyway, back to the visit…
The potatoes are tipped onto a very large conveyor belt and once they reach the top they are sent onto another conveyor belt with holes in it – tiny holes to start with. As the belt moves the smaller potatoes fall through the holes into a deposit below. Then the holes get bigger and the next size potato falls through into the next deposit. There are about 6 different sizes. Only the gigantic potatoes make it to the very end.
Then the potatoes pass through the quality conveyor and there are two people with very quick hands who pull out all the bad ones. The rest go on to the next stage which is to be packaged and boxed ready to be transported.
Each country has its specific preferences and each supermarket within that country wants a particular type of packaging, of a specific size and with specific information on the label. For example, here in Spain, Macro wholesaler sells sacks of potatoes of 5 kgs. They want a plastic sack with holes in it and they want the potatoes to be unwashed. On the other hand, Eroski supermarket wants their potatoes washed and wants them in 2 kgs mesh bags! All this is done before the potatoes leave the factory.
On top of all this, certain supermarkets require certain standards with regard to quality and some of them send out their own quality experts. The general certificate which exporters and producers who provide for the general public must have is called Global Gap. Esplet must also achieve the Field to Fork certificate as demanded by Marks and Spencer and Nature’s Choice certificate required by Tesco.
We loved the visit to Esplet and I highly recommend you to stop by if you are passing; the staff are very friendly and they sell the potatoes direct to the public at 5€ for a sack of 15 kgs.
After our visit we were each given a 1 kg bag of Maris Peers, which are the small new potatoes that are fantastic boiled or steamed and served with meat and vegetables. These potatoes lasted us nearly two months and they were still excellent quality when we finished them off!
Discover more Mallorcan gastronomy here.
About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....