Super Spuds, prize winning flair, and a keen instinct for the marketing edge make are the hallmark of farmers Tudor and Janet Harris, this year’s hosts of the International Sheepdog Trials.
The couple pioneered Pick Your Own potatoes within a short drive of Cardiff when potato prices plummeted in the late 1970s. The Super Spuds, at ‘tuppence a pound’ had won best crop at Cowbridge Show and proved hugely popular, evoking memories among former land army girls and of a more rurally orientated inter war society.
Now Tudor and Janet are hoping that the people who flocked onto their farm from the city thirty five years or so ago will return with friends and family during the second weekend of September for the International Sheepdog Trials. They see the event as a means of ‘giving something back to farming’, of educating the public and simply enjoying the social aspect of introducing urban folk to an entirely different way of life.
Tudor says: "It became a social thing because 80% of the people came back year in year out and Super Spud was my name. You got to know people and families of people that came back for years and a lot of middle-aged women brought their daughters because they had worked in the land army.
"They would bring their daughters and grand daughters up from the city to show them what they did in the Forties. They’d come and talk to you and they would go for the small potatoes that the men left behind, saying they tasted better."
The pick your own potatoes allowed the couple to make the most of the income from their potatoes, enjoying a small mark up but crucially cutting out labour, storage and transport costs. Gradually they progressed from the original 100 acre tenanted farm, buying pieces of land every few years largely on the proceeds of the Super Spuds.
They are immensely proud that when the 262 acre host farm, Redland, Bonvilston, came on the market in 1995 they were able to buy it with ‘farming money’, all earned from their farming business. And it brought to an end hours on the road farming ten different pieces of land within a ten mile radius of their home.
Success came at a heavy price – the strain of a half a million pound bridging loan is etched into Tudor’s every fibre. Today they farm 350 acres, with a 500 ewe flock of Suffolk cross Welsh Mountain sheep as well as a pedigree flock of 40 Blue Faced Leicesters and 50 commercial cows, and have two holiday cottages.
All the commercial offspring are sold to Waitrose, testimony to the quality of production at Redland Farm. Another quality indicator is the price paid each year for the twenty to thirty Blue Faced Leicester rams sold at the NSA Wales & Border Ram Sales each year.
The venture began with a Blue Faced Leicester Champion and reserve at the Royal Welsh in 2003. The ram sold for 2,300 guineas the follow year and established them as serious breeders.
This year, after holding 35 Point to Points during their time at Redland, the couple will dedicate a hundred and eighty acres to a festival celebrating the sport of sheepdog trialling, and food production. The farm purchased with the proceeds of Super Spuds, prize-winning livestock, and a dedication to first class agricultural principles is just a short drive from Cardiff but a world away from most peoples’ experience.
Tudor Harris has had a masterful farming career, he is a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies, winner of the Royal Welsh under 21 shearing competition in 1968, and three times winner of the Merrett Trophy for the best lowland beef and sheep farmer in Glamorgan but International Sheepdog Trials are something of a source of wonder. He freely admits he is more at home with point to pointers - he began in farming with the winnings from gymkhana prizes and came third at Cheltenham.
But Sheepdog handling is quite another skill. And it's one he’s happy to leave to the experts.
The International Sheepdog Trials and Food and Country Festival will be held at Redland Farm, Bonvilston, September 6 – 8 2012
Suffolk Results Reinforce Benefit to Lamb Producers
Backing for Sheep EID Regulation Review Growing
Texel Crosses Deliver Premiums in Spring Lamb Trade