How optimistic potato grower targets soil enhancements

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Potato planting would possibly solely have completed within the final week of Could, however our Northern Arable Insights grower James Choose remains to be fairly optimistic for the crop this season.

“We had been round 4 weeks not on time planting, so there’s in all probability going to be a yield lower – possibly of 10%,” he says.

“However offered we’ve got a pleasant summer time we needs to be OK. The actual fact we don’t have as many potatoes to reap this yr means we will delay beginning for per week – I’m hoping that a few of the lower in yield may be lined by harvesting later.”

See additionally: Selection alternative and focused N are very important for Scottish grower’s potato revenue

Goal yields for the three varieties, all of that are grown for McCain for both McDonald’s fries or McCain own-brand fries on long-term storage contracts, varies between 45t/ha for Pentland Dell and Royal at 55t/ha, with Innovator at 50t/ha.

“The Royal is contracted at 62.5t/ha, however we’re unirrigated so it’s an unrealistic goal for us,” James says.

“On our heavier soils holding extra vitamins we appear to have the ability to obtain over contract tonnage with Innovator and Pentland Dell.” 

Space is right down to 155ha from 220ha two years in the past, reflecting the elevated prices and dangers from rising potatoes and land availability, regardless of a comparatively wholesome improve in contract value from McCain.

“There are some good growers within the native space so there’s competitors for land. Landowners wish to transfer in direction of extra soil health-friendly crops, an additional crop of wheat or barley, whereas oilseed rape has been a fantastic-paying break crop for a few years.”


Bettering soil well being and lowering pesticide inputs are key linked goals for James throughout the close to 400ha of cropping, which incorporates 138ha of land rented for potatoes close to Filey in North Yorkshire.

“Any discount in pesticides goes to return from enhancing our soils,” he says.

It means taking a multi-pronged strategy throughout the rotation utilizing natural amendments, akin to compost and farmyard manures, lowered cultivations, and canopy and companion cropping.

For instance, cowl crops of mustard, oats, phacelia, buckwheat and a legume species, akin to a vetch, pea or bean, are planted in late August or early September after wheat harvest to overwinter earlier than the potato crop.

“The roots pump exudates into the soil, preserving the soil biology stimulated heading into winter and early spring,” he explains. “That improves friability and soil aggregation so we will scale back the necessity for cultivation.”

The place cowl crops are grown it normally means ploughing may be averted. “We desiccate in February, high it, after which go in with a subsoiler, ideally in good time earlier than we need to go in with one other cultivation to permit the soil profile to dry slightly.”

A Bomford Superflow drag cultivator breaks up any clods left after subsoiling, whereas a Horsch Terrano creates tilth for the bed-former.

The goal is to keep away from a go with a bed-tiller, though with this spring’s wetter climate that hasn’t at all times been potential.

“Even so, we’ve decreased the world by at the least a half that we’ve got to apply it to, and are additionally going a lot faster – 2.5km/h in contrast with 1km/h so the depth of the go is far much less.”

On short-term rented land farmyard manure is utilized inside per week of cultivation – you get extra worth in your cash, James says – whereas compost tends to be utilized on land the place the farm has long run management.

That’s a part of the technique to cut back reliance on utilized fertiliser, whereas growing the water holding capability of the soil.

However discussions on his current Nuffield Scholarship travels investigating whether or not potatoes may be grown in a regenerative system have introduced house the significance of balancing the 2 natural amendments and canopy crops within the system.

“You want three issues in your soil – the residing, the lifeless and the very lifeless,” he explains.

“The residing is your inexperienced manures or cowl crops, the lifeless covers manures and included lifeless cowl crops, whereas the very lifeless are composts which have been by organic processes to interrupt it down and go away a steady carbon supply.”

The residing and lifeless components – particulate natural matter – are comparatively simply damaged down and cycled within the soil, whereas the very lifeless – mineral natural matter – is comparatively inaccessible to vegetation.

As he tries to enhance his soils, he says he might want to discover the proper stability between composts with manures and excessive nitrogen cowl crops, to each cycle carbon and vitamins successfully whereas constructing a financial institution of extra steady natural matter.

compost temperature gauge

© Mike Abram

Soil carbon

He plans to make use of NRM soil carbon plus checks to assist decide the quantity of energetic carbon in his soils, and inform cowl crop administration, manure and compost use.

“Traditionally our soils have had a variety of manures, so I don’t anticipate the difficulty to be energetic carbon and particularly now we develop cowl crops – it’s going to be increase the financial institution of steady natural matter over a time frame.”

One other space the place James is studying is in lowering pesticides. “Potatoes are the primary breadwinner for this enterprise and a high-risk crop, so we’re doing small-scale trials to study the place we will make reductions and the place we will’t,” he explains.

“We already use fewer fungicides than many, nevertheless it’s largely right down to instinct, so we’re utilizing sap evaluation for the primary time this season to assist make extra knowledgeable selections.

“We’re additionally in a single area placing flowering cowl crop strips at 30m intervals, and in another fields placing them in non-planted areas to see the way it may also help help us in not utilizing pesticides.”

Micronutrition can also be being trialled. “We’ve seen the position silica can play in preventing off flea beetle in oilseed rape for the previous two years, so we’re going to attempt it in potatoes, however by the season somewhat than for any explicit pest.”

Silica is essentially the most ample nutrient within the soil, however one of many least accessible. Utilized as a foliar spray, it will increase the power of the cell partitions.

That exercise was used to interchange progress regulators in a crop of wheat with good outcomes final yr, he concludes.

Storage challenges

Lengthy-term storage with out CIPC (chlorpropham) is a problem, with various merchandise offering blended outcomes.

The farm has about 8,500t of storage, largely ambient, however together with one retailer with a two-year-old refrigeration system, which is normally used to retailer Royal till June with optimistic outcomes.

That’s contributed to elevated vitality use, tempered by entry to renewable vitality from two generators and a few roof-top photo voltaic panels. Goal storage temperatures are 7-10C.

Ideally, James Choose will use maleic hydrazide as a sprout suppressant and progress regulator in area, however final season’s sizzling and dry circumstances meant it couldn’t be utilized to a careworn crop.

That has contributed to increased ranges of sprouting in retailer, James says.

This season ethylene has been tried with out an enormous quantity of success, whereas the lastly accredited 1,4-dimethylnapthalene (DMN) has additionally disenchanted with its efficiency. “We haven’t seen the response different folks have, however we’ll look to make use of it once more subsequent yr.”

Mint oil, nonetheless, has impressed, stopping additional progress after the appliance of DMN.

The lack of CIPC has meant a drastic loss in storage stability, in addition to an enormous improve in prices from £0.60/t to £10-12/t, James factors out.

“We used to have the ability to retailer a crop by till June and see solely 2.2% weight reduction, now it’s comfortably in extra of three%.”

As well as, because the potatoes soften as they sprout, they compact extra within the bulk storage resulting in compaction bruising and a requirement for the processor to make use of them inside 24 hours as soon as faraway from retailer.


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