Every so often, Walter Simon’s phone will ping with a text message from a friend, praising the taste and quality of potatoes they have sourced from a Welsh supermarket in packaging bearing his name.

Understandably, he gets a terrific buzz from that affirmation.

“It is very nice when friends take a photo of the bag and compliment me on my potatoes,’’ Mr Simon admits.

“For years we exported potatoes to Liverpool, Manchester and further afield and never saw them for sale but now I can go into a local supermarket and see my potatoes there, there is a huge amount of pride in selling locally grown potatoes to the local population.’’

For more than 20 years his business has been supplying potatoes to Pembrokeshire-based Puffin Produce who market them under the Blas y Tir brand to supply to supermarkets in Wales.

“Welsh potatoes for Welsh customers is far better all round than importing potatoes from mainland Europe,’’ Mr Simon insists.

He has specialised in producing potatoes since 1999 but grows only a small percentage on his 140 hectare (ha) farm at West Orielton, Hundleton, where he lives with his wife, Penny.

That land is rented out to a beef farmer because the soil conditions are much better suited to livestock farming than potato production.

Over the past two decades Mr Simon has developed business relationships with half a dozen local farmers to rent fields on a one-in-six rotation.

Ideally, the land will be stone-free and fairly deep and is a mixture of soil types ranging from sandy soil and red sandstone to limestone.

Mr Simon is a strong advocate of maximising soil health.

To build soil fertility and resilience, he grew cover crops on the entire acreage he had under potatoes in 2021.

“We often hear that some fields have only got 100 harvests left in them, I want to make sure that when I finish growing my crop of potatoes that they still have 100 left in them, if not more,’’ he says.

Protecting soil health is also part and parcel of being a good tenant, Mr Simon adds.

“I want to show my landlords that I am farming that land as well as they would because I’d like to be renting that land again in five or six years’ time.’’

Oats and vetch are planted in August or September after the preceding arable crop – oats for biomass and vetch to fix nitrogen – and then grazed by sheep.

Cover crops deliver a multitude of benefits, from sequestering carbon and adding organic matter, to preventing winter run off.

Grazing the crops with sheep adds further organic matter to the soil.

Fields are ploughed in February or March and in 2021 planting got underway on 25 March with 32ha of the salad varieties, Paris, Gemson and Gerona, and 32ha of maincrop Maris Piper, Orla and Sunita.

“Every year we generally grow a couple of new varieties for the Blas y Tir range, to try to keep on top of growing quality varieties, to see if they will work in Pembrokeshire,’’ says Mr Simon.

Potatoes are harvested with a trailed harvester into one-tonne boxes and these go straight into cold storage at Puffin Produce’s depot in Haverfordwest.

“Cold storage means we can produce as good a quality potato in west Wales as they can in the east of England and we have some added advantages because we have a higher rainfall and need less irrigation,’’ says Mr Simon.

The aim is to finish harvesting by the end of September to allow the landlords a good window of opportunity to get their next crops planted.

When Mr Simon first came home to farm, the family had dairy and beef cattle and after 10 years of farming he would have described himself as a livestock farmer; now he describes himself as a passionate grower, and likes talking about potatoes, especially when he is educating the next generation of consumers.

“I was recently involved in a video call with a local primary school, I was in the field and they were in the classroom, and I could see a forest of hands raised in the background. The children asked a lot of very sensible questions.’’