Carlo’s grandfather emigrated from Italy in the late 1940s and settled on Channybearup Road to grow tobacco. Now the third generation to be farming in the area, Carlo in unison with his father, Bob, uncle Bruno and brother Frank work from sunup to sundown across their 2,000 acres of land.
The brothers have been learning the ropes for the past 10 years and are in the process of taking the reigns as the next generation to farm the land. The family grow 50 acres of potatoes, 45 acres of avocados, and run 400 1st cross breeders.
The family work in partnership with one another, with each person having their role and area of expertise. Frank focuses on growing a strong crop of different potatoes varieties with different input needs, and Carlo focuses on their new venture into avocados, with Bob and Bruno managing the extensive cattle work.
In recent years the family have tested the waters with their own label, Karri Country Gourmet Potatoes which is used for their gourmet potato varieties. Karri Country Gourmet Potatoes began over five years ago as the potato industry started to change and deregulate, to show a point of difference for consumers who had only seen the same four varieties of washed potato in stores.
Carlo set out to spread the message of the “dirty potato” as a naturally long-lasting and nutritious product. Carlo worked closely with the Food Council when establishing the business, using the supported network of market contacts for sales. The Food Council assisted in developing co-branded packaging with the well-recognised Genuinely Southern Forests brand to raise awareness of the niche product.
Although the family have cut back on their gourmet lines, they still produce Midnight Pearl and Crimson Pearl, both of which are harvested from early February and sold throughout retailers across the state via Beta Spuds. If you are buying and eating a purple or pink flesh potato in Western Australia, it’s highly likely to be grown by the Pessotto family.
Midnight Pearl is a medium to large sized oblong potato with purple skin and purple flesh. Similar in appearance to purple congo but generally larger. They have good flavour and retain colour when cooked. Especially good for potato salads but also for mashing, steaming, boiling, roasting and salads.
Crimson Pearl potatoes have a deep magenta skin and flesh. They are packed with antioxidants which make it a healthy option for bakes, mash and potato salads.
The family’s main commercial potato varieties include Orchestra, Royal Blue and Neptune which are sold through Supa Spud Potatoes packhouse. From planting the seed to harvest, it takes 100 days for the potatoes to mature. The Pessotto’s plant every two weeks from September to early December and commence harvest in January and go through to late May. The potatoes are harvested in the paddock, filled into bins and can be on shop floors within 24 hours.
The family’s potato production sees an eight-year paddock rotation, which allows for no pests and diseases to be passed on from crop to crop. Following the harvest season, the paddocks are seeded and cut for hay or silage before the cattle are let in for grazing.
Potato growers in the Southern Forests have faced a challenging couple of years with the closure of the Potato Marketing Corporation, closure of Smith Chips factory and border restriction for seed potato sales due to an isolated outbreak of Potato PTT disease. As a result, the Pessotto family have halved the number of potatoes they produce, equating to approximately 800 – 1000 tonne of potatoes per annum.
Planting avocados and nurturing a new produce line has been an eye opener for Carlo. He’s had to change the way he thinks. Growing avocados has also allowed Carlo and Frank to create their own identity as producers, away from the historical line followed by their family.
Carlo believes a corporate approach to farming doesn’t work here in the Southern Forests. In comparison to the rest of the country there are a lot of smaller farmers in the area. The brothers focus on quality over quantity, investing in tree and soil health, to grow the best possible produce they can. This season Carlo expects to yield 10 tonnes to the hectare from their 18-hectare avocado orchard. The avocados are harvested by contract pickers, packed through several local packhouses, and sold in Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney.
Carlo has also enjoyed the agritourism opportunities that bring customers to the farm and introduce them to the people and stories behind the produce. You can follow @KarriCountryGourmet on Instagram where the family share the behind the scenes of growing potatoes in the Southern Forests.
Photography by Craig Kinder Photography for Genuinely Southern Forests.