A north-east potato enthusiast with nearly 700 varieties of spuds has been named the winner of this year’s Royal Northern Agricultural Society (RNAS) local award.
The award, which is sponsored by Aberdeen and Northern Marts, is presented to an individual in recognition of their services to local communities, specialist farming organisations or groups. This year’s recipient – Morrice Innes from Oldtown, Newmachar – has made a tremendous contribution to the world of potatoes by showcasing hundreds of varieties to members of the public.
Mr Innes, who insists he does this as a hobby, grows nearly 700 different varieties on a half-acre plot at his home.
Up until recently, Mr Innes and his wife Ann, ran a mail order company selling different types of tatties to gardeners across the UK.
The pair gave up this business around four years ago, and they now focus on showing tatties at different shows including the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show down south.
And it was at this very show in May this year that Morrice fulfilled a lifelong ambition to win a coveted Chelsea Flower Show gold medal.
The medal attracted media interest from all over the UK as it was the first time a tuber-only exhibit had won a gold at the show.
“Getting into Chelsea was like qualifying for the Olympics and getting a gold was the whole thing,” said Mr Innes, who built up and manned the stand with Ann and a couple from Perthshire – John and Rhona Marshall.
So what spurred Morrice’s interest in potatoes?
“Way back I grew up in Lonmay, up near Fraserburgh, and it was a well-known potato growing area,” he said.
“I grew up on the family farm there and after studying agriculture I went to the Rowett Research Institute working on beef nutrition.
“I was there for 20 years and then took redundancy from there and bought Oldtown.”
Thereafter, building on an interest in growing and showing potatoes, he took the opportunity to buy a mail order business with a tattie collection from the late Donald Maclean in Crieff in the mid-1990s.
The original collection consisted of 230 varieties, but since then it has built up to nearly 700.
Mr Innes said: “I have got a lot of the rare ones from SASA in Edinburgh. We work with them and they were good enough to give me two tubers of most of the varieties that I have required. That was the main source of building the collection.”
His dedication to maintaining his precious tattie collection was mentioned in all of his citations for the award.
One says that Morrice comes alive when you mention the word tatties.
It states: “I can’t imagine the number of hours he has spent nurturing his collection of potatoes.
“Some of the varieties in his collection might well have been lost to cultivation but for his enthusiasm and skill.”
Another reads: “As a potato grower myself I understand the work involved in growing lots of varieties and keeping them all separate, but only Morrice can know what keeping 700 varieties in order is like. I do know that it requires lots of hard, and unpaid, work from which the whole industry benefits.”
So what’s next for this north-east spud lover? Morrice and Ann have entered themselves into next year’s Chelsea Flower Show and will be hoping for gold again.
Morrice will be presented with his award at an awards lunch on Friday, November 6, at the Skyway Hotel (formerly the Thistle Hotel) at Aberdeen Airport. Tickets cost £25 and a limited number are still available from RNAS secretary Alison Argo. They can be obtained by calling Mrs Argo on 07714 899628 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org