16 March 2001

Consumer demand shift makes ICM a key factor

CONSUMER demand is set to make integrated crop management principles a key quality parameter for potatoes says cambs-based packer Solanum.

"Growers must demonstrate total responsibility by producing a crop which has minimal impact on the environment," says supply chain director Jason Burgess.

"Embracing the ICM concept is therefore becoming a prerequisite to growing potatoes."

In addition to traditional quality parameters such as size, skin finish, or dry matter, traceability, justification and growing integrity will be the new marketing standards, he believes.

Hence Solanum is focusing on reducing chemical inputs on its growers farms by encouraging them to adopt alternative approaches to controlling pests and diseases in the crop.

Reducing dependency on nematicides and blight sprays is the main thrust. With PCN the key is to understand the problem before acting on it, he says.

That means more detailed sampling and making better use of GPS mapping. Determining nematode level and rate of decline is essential to decide rotation length and whether a nematicide is needed.

"Having decided to use a nematicide we make a recommendation based on the environmental profile of the product and the amount of active ingredient required.

"The only real option in our opinion is to use Vydate (oxamyl), which is soil applied and systemic. It is highly effective with lower rates of active ingredient than alternative products, and in our view it has the best environmental profile of all the nematicides."

But with a finite amount of land fit for growing potatoes, and 50% of it with a nematode problem, reduced nematicide use is unlikely without the co-operation of retailers and consumers to accept alternative varieties, he adds.

"We cant do it without the consumer, because variety choice is a key factor in ICM."

Solanums policy of vertical integration between grower and consumer aims to get that message across and means its growers have a competitive advantage, he says. For blight control disease forecasting and monitoring is increasingly important. The company uses a computer model to guide growers and advises mixing chemicals with preventative and curative activity to improve efficacy and cut the risk of resistance build up. &#42

SOLANUM SAYS…

&#8226 ICM demand increasing.

&#8226 Understanding problems key.

&#8226 Input justification required.

&#8226 Variety changes need consumer co-operation.

Big supplier

Solanum is one of the UKs largest suppliers of pre-pack quality potatoes to three of the UKs leading retailers. The company was formed in 2000 after Russell Burgesss merger with Sutton Bridge Ltd, and more recently a merger with Doncaster-based Higgins packhouse. The new company handles over 250,000t a year of potatoes with a turnover of £60m a year.