17 July 1998

All in it together

BLIGHT control demands a co-ordinated effort from growers, says a Notts farm agronomist.

"It is no good seven out of eight farms keeping on top of the disease. We are all in the disease control game together and have to look after every crop," says Nick Bishop, agronomist for Robert Thomas Farms 1100ha (2700 acres) of crops.

Its weather station is part of a 12-farm local network, linked by radio signal. Weather data and crop assessments are used to run a computer blight forecast for the farms processing crops. But for those furthest afield, coverage is not yet adequate.

"A station per parish is ideal to get comprehensive local weather data. About 25 stations would be needed to cover this Notts/Lincs potato area completely," says consultant agronomist Howard Hinds, of DMA Crop Consultants.

Such a network would be welcomed by Mr Bishop. With crops in a 30-mile radius, sharing weather data to complete the forecasting picture makes a lot of sense.

Weather data is fed into a forecasting software package, Plant Plus, which gives advance warning of blight infective periods. On the local crops, this has meant a tighter, more targeted spray programme this season.

"If we could have got the sprays on before infective periods last year, we could have saved a lot more of the crop. We ended up burning out nucleus patches of the disease," he notes.

Better targeting of sprays is also attracting the interest of the farms potato buyer, Higgins Group. "They are very interested in the system. We are justifying what we are doing – we can prove why we have had to use four sprays in four weeks this season."