Maltese Gold

Meet Joseph Farrugia – a grower from Qrendi who is the brains behind the brand ‘Maltese Gold’. Together with his partner, Michael, he produces and markets high quality potatoes, which are now being shipped directly to Holland.

Joseph, has recently become a household name with many local growers and farming enthusiasts. His daily motivational posts on the Facebook community group Dilettanti tal-Agrikoltura siģar u pjanti are an inspiration to many who, like myself, are passionate about the agri sector. So I decided to meet him, to learn more about his enterprise.

Christian and myself, together with baby Nikol, drove towards Qrendi on a lovely sunny morning. We met Joseph next to the parish church and followed him towards his farm. The rural roads leading to his fields are tidy, bordered with well-maintained rubble walls, creating the beautiful landscape typical to the south of Malta.

We drove right onto the farm situated in the middle of a disused quarry where one could immediately see the thousands of potato plants. Joseph kindly offered us some coffee and we started chatting about the potato business.

I got to know that together with Michael, Joseph manages fifty-five tumoli (over six hectares) of land in Qrendi – all dedicated to the cultivation of Alpha and Montreal potato varieties. Joseph explained that he has been growing potatoes all his life and knew well what the business entailed. However, the trade of locally grown potatoes ended up as a disappointing business for many growers. Prices given to growers for producing premium quality potatoes spiralled down. As a consequence, many growers decided to grow another type of crop that would leave higher profits in their pockets.

In the midst of the conversation, Michael strolled into the room. He didn’t stay long, since there was work to be finished elsewhere, but he immediately struck me as a humble, hardworking man. Throughout the years this enterprising duo has invested a lot of time and money into their potato growing business. I was disappointed to learn that they applied for EU funded investment measures several times, but have never been selected to obtain any grants from local authorities. Notwithstanding the different challenges they faced, they love what they do and their enthusiasm is contagious.

Fed up of being a ‘price taker’, Joseph looked for a potential buyer in Holland and although this entailed even more hard work, together with Michael, they took the plunge last year and exported 140 tonnes of premium quality potatoes.

It was a challenging and risky step, but the most rewarding one so far. By taking this decision, Joseph realised that there is a constant need for strategic planning that focuses on crop management. This entails obtaining the best yield, achieving top quality tubers, while using fewer inputs. In other words, increasing efficiency is definitely the way forward for our agricultural sector.

Shipping potatoes also requires a great deal of trust from all parties involved. One of the prerequisites which makes a batch of potatoes sellable, is to obtain quality marks from reliable entities. Joseph told us that such certificates represent a high cost, but these give the producer an edge over the competition. The ‘Maltese Gold’ brand has been successfully certified by GlobalG.A.P, an international and independent body ensuring good agricultural practices, and has also obtained a negative test for pesticide residues.

Apart from being skilled in growing potatoes, Joseph and Michael are now carrying out important trials in the sector. Very often we associate this with academics who conduct research and produce scientific papers. In this case, these two growers are monitoring over two hundred different varieties of potatoes in order to test their productivity, adaptability and resilience to our climate. Such studies are conducted hand in hand with the Dutch buyer who is on the lookout for new markets needs.

I learnt a great deal from these two Maltese farmers. Above all, I strongly believe that there’s a myriad of opportunities in the agri sector waiting to be exploited. Cultivation, management and marketing of the product are fundamental, but what’s even more important is the positive attitude and the mentality to be proactive. Today’s local farmers need to realise that it’s useless complaining about the industry’s misgivings, and actually do something in order to improve their own situation.

Media by Christian Borg

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