Cash spent on spud irrigation well rewarded
INVEST £253/ha a year in irrigation and reap seven times as much in extra profit.
That is the picture to emerge from a survey covering almost 10% of the national potato crop.
The study conducted for Kent-based Field Irrigation shows an average yield response to irrigation of 14t/ha over the past three years. Combined with better quality and tuber size that boosted crop margin by an average of £1675/ha.
Growers in East Anglia did best of all, achieving £2145/ha extra profit from an average 16.1t/ha yield lift.
Respondents represented 10,625ha of potatoes, 43% of which was irrigated. Hose reel and guns proved most popular, accounting for 86% of applications. But trickle was used by 6% of growers, which was more than used centre-pivot.
Nearly half the growers used their own experience to schedule applications, a third used consultancy services and 17% in-crop tensiometers or neutron probes. The latter group was dominated by growers with over 50ha of potatoes.
Significantly, trickle users tended to apply more water early in the season. That suggests that once the soil is wetted less irrigation is needed to hold soil moisture deficits at required levels in rooting zones later in the season, says Field Irrigation.
Two out of three growers said they were considering investing in irrigation in 1999, 9% saying trickle irrigation is planned and a similar number planning new reservoirs.
"As the costs of water and restrictions on abstraction increase, this could well lead to an increasing number of growers switching to trickle in order to maintain high quality produce," suggests Roger Moore, marketing and sales manager for Field Irrigation.
"The buoyancy indicated by these statistics is encouraging. Growers are responding to the needs of the market-place and clearly appreciate the role of irrigation in maintaining high profits." *
• 10,625ha potatoes surveyed.
• Seven times return on investment.
• 14t/ha extra yield.
• £1675/ha profit boost.
• Two out of three set to invest further.