Harvesting potatoes in very wet conditions in Lincolnshire© Tim Scrivener

This year’s wet summer has hindered the UK potato harvest with wet ground conditions, although growers are happy with the healthy yields.

However, there are some quality concerns, with skin set and greening higher than desirable because of the rain and lack of sunshine.

Norfolk

Tim Papworth grows 142ha of potatoes at Lodge Farm, Felmingham, Norfolk, and has had a great season so far.

“We’ve lifted about 60ha and there are lots of spuds; we’ve got fantastic yields in this part of the world,” he says.

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“Although we have had to irrigate, we got rain at the right time and quality has been good.”

Mr Papworth started lifting Premiere in July, which averaged more than 44.5t/ha against a budgeted 39.5t/ha.

“Our salads also filled the contract, so we’ve had to go to the open market with them. I think quality is going to be important this year.”

However, he has only just made a start on processing crops – which are mainly grown for McCain, Kettle and Albert Bartlett – with one field of Daisy harvested so far.

“It was well over the yield estimate at 61.8t/ha, and quality was good,” he says.

“We have Innovator and Daisy ready to lift, but had to cancel a load yesterday as it’s too wet to lift – everything’s on hold now, which is frustrating.”

With processors asking growers to store for longer this year, one thing Mr Papworth is concerned about is quality.

“There’s been quite a bit of blight about, so I’m worried about how the potatoes are going to keep,” he says.

Until recently Mr Papworth was irrigating before lifting to get the crops out of his fine sandy loam soils in good condition – but now it’s too wet to harvest at all.

Suffolk

Andrew Francis is also struggling with slow harvesting rates at Elveden Farms, Thetford, on the border between Norfolk and Suffolk, after a spell of persistent rain.

“Lifting conditions have been challenging in the past couple of weeks – we’ve had 4-8mm of rain virtually every day and lifting rates are close to double the normal amount of time,” he says.

Skin set in the sandy loam soils is also quite slow due to the dull weather, with crops taking about a week longer to set than usual.

However, harvest progress is in line with a normal year, and yields are close to – or slightly below – the farm average.

“We’re approaching the halfway mark through, having cleared 200ha of the 515ha planted; and yields are nothing spectacular.”

So far Mr Francis has lifted all of his salad crops, as well as some Shepody for McCains and Daisy for processing.

“We’re just starting on some Sovereign and Saxon for pre-pack and we are grading harder than normal. There are a few more greens due to the intense rain we had at the end of the season, which washed some of the soil off,” he explains.

“It’s more noticeable on the Saxon and Sovereign, as they tend to set shorter stolons, which bunches the tubers up – it’s not such a problem on the processing varieties.”

Potatoes going into store © Tim Scrivener

© Tim Scrivener

Early processing varieties averaged about 50t/ha, and quality has been nicely in-specification.

“Dry matters are probably at the higher end of normal, and size is okay, too,” he added.

However, the hot, dry weather in the spring and early summer, followed by the heavy rain at the end of June, have had an effect, says Mr Francis.

“We were irrigating every three days, and were just about able to keep up. But then the heavens opened and it slowed bulking rates – a few of the later varieties never really got going again after that.”

Shropshire

Matthew Wallace has lifted 202ha of the 567ha potato crop at Heal Farms, Shawbury, near Shrewsbury and is pleased with both yields and quality so far.

“It’s not going too badly, although we’re about five days behind now,” he says. “The season started off very dry – almost too dry – then we got some rain and it doesn’t seem to want to stop now. Ground conditions aren’t ideal, and you can’t lift in the rain.”

Mr Wallace started harvesting early crops in July, with pleasing yields and quality, and has now moved into Lady Claire for processing.

Potatoes being lifted

© Tim Scrivener

“Yields are above the farm average at about 42t/ha and quality is pretty good. Our soils range from heavy clay to blow-away sand. We’re lifting from sand right now and it’s going very well, but we lost five days due to very slow progress on the heavy land.”

Yields have been similar on both soil types, he says, with unirrigated crops definitely suffering from heat stress, pulling down tuber numbers, although output is still up on last year’s low figures.

As well as Lady Claire, the estate is also growing Hermes, Brooke, Arsenal, Lady Rosetta and Shepody – with key buyers being McCain, QV Foods and Walkers.

The wet lifting conditions are now a concern when it comes to storability of the crop, he explains.

“Plus, there’s a new strain of blight that seems to be everywhere; with the rain at burn-off the inoculum has been fairly high, so that will be something to watch out for in store. We’ll have to be on the ball.”