The potato market today is vastly different from what is was only 50 years ago and one of those who played a major role in the revolution was John Stevenson, of Luffness Mains, Aberlady, who died last month.

In the late 1960s, a chance remark by a great friend, Arthur Neil, a hotelier in Dirleton, set Stevenson off on a mission after Neil commented that his hotel staff spent a great deal of time washing and peeling potatoes for meals. He asked the seemingly simple question as to why it was not possible to get potatoes ready to cook.

Stevenson visited the United States where marketing was more advanced than in this country in those days. Following that trip, he set up potato washing and peeling facilities in a converted farm shed at Luffness Mains.

The business quickly grew beyond the farm and when East Lothian Council could not be persuaded to allow a factory to be built nearby, on account of possible pollution problems, Stevenson moved Shieldness Produce, as the business was called, to Bo’ness.

Soon its delivery vans and lorries were not only delivering washed and peeled potatoes to the whole of the Scotland but they were also making forays into the north of England as more and more canteens, schools and hotels bought into the ready to cook potatoes.

The rapid growth of the company saw it employ 200 people in the processing factory by the 1980s.

Farmers growing potatoes recognised that the company had created an important outlet for processing varieties grown in central Scotland. The company was sold in 1993 but the new owners now employs 1300 people on the business foundations Stevenson built.

And yet, he had not set out in life wanting to be a potato farmer or processor. After leaving Glenalmond College, he informed his parents – who were tenants on the 450 acres of Luffness Mains – that he would have preferred the lifestyle of a stockbroker.

However, with farming ancestors going back to 1720 along with the prospect of inheriting the tenanted farm of Luffness Mains, Aberlady, other career paths were closed off and off he went to Aberdeen University to study and gain a degree in agriculture.

With the early death of his father when he was only 24-years-old and with no other siblings free to farm at that time, he quickly found himself thrown in at the deep end in the farming world. Typically, with his energy and zest for life, he threw himself enthusiastically into progressive modern crop production and marketing.

Like many other successful farmers, Mr Stevenson had the wisdom to appoint a first-class farm manager to oversee the day to day running of the farm where growing early potatoes was a speciality.

With Robert Hardy in post at Luffness Mains, it gave him the freedom to pursue his many other interests. Even while he was setting up Shieldness Produce, he became involved in public life, becoming a councillor on East Lothian Council when he was still in his 20s. He rose quickly in the council ranks, becoming finance convenor for a spell before he became disillusioned with the politics in local authority work.

Concerns over possible pollution problems arising from his processing of potatoes then saw him become involved with the work of the Forth River Purification Board in 1967. He quickly rose to become vice-chair before it was dissolved in the 1990s.

Mr Stevenson’s enquiring and inventive mind also saw him become involved in the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, in Bedfordshire, where he served for three decades on the governing body of this organisation developing state of the art agricultural machinery.

Closer to home, he followed in his father’s footsteps as president of East Lothian branch of the Scottish NFU, whilst also serving on the union’s potato, cereals and machinery and labour national committees.

A lifelong interest in the welfare of farm workers took him down another route when he became an enthusiastic supporter of the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution, more easily known nowadays as Scotland’s Rural Charity. After becoming the charity’s chairman in 1991, he helped raise its profile through various fund raising activities in the farming world.

His gregarious nature and leadership talents saw him become involved with a wide range of organisations. He was made a Freeman in the City of London and a Liveryman as well as being a member of the Farmers Club, in London, and a member of the New Club, in Edinburgh. In the charity world, he became an enthusiastic member of Saints and Sinners, helping to raise funds for worthy causes.

At the same time, he was given formal recognition for his contribution to farming with the award of Fellowship of the Royal Agricultural Societies while his public life and high profile was recognised when he was asked to be a deputy lieutenant for East Lothian, an honour of which he was singularly proud.

Mr Stevenson served as an elder at Aberlady Church for more than 60 years but it was in St Giles Cathedral that he married Eileen MacDonald, the daughter of a prominent banker, in 1956, thus forming a union that lasted 55 years and which produced Allan, Ian and Sue.

Allan, a former chair of the British Potato Council, continues to farm at Luffness Mains.