29 October 1999

End of harvest in sight for UKs potato growers

By Andrew Swallow

RECENT rain is frustrating potato growers with crop still to lift, but for most the harvest is home and dry.

According to BPC figures, 79% of this years 146,000ha crop had been lifted by last Friday. That compares with 66% lifted of a 137,000ha crop on the same date last year.

"The break in the weather is disappointing," says the British Potato Councils Rob Burrow. "Five to seven more fine days would have broken the back of it."

Average yield is set to match last years 43t/ha (17.4t/acre), but there is huge variation. Crops planted early have done better than last year, while later plantings suffered from the wet, dry, wet conditions of June, July and August respectively, he believes.

That is echoed by Hereford-shire grower Peter Vaughan, who finished lifting late last week. "A lot of our crop was planted in May and June – it was a treacherous time – very wet and difficult." As a result his all-Estima crop is down 5-7t/ha (2-3t/acre).

"Quality is not as good as last year either," he adds. Sub-standard seed and the stop-start growing season are blamed for higher scab and netting.

At Tiln Farms, near Retford, Notts, skin-finish on Estima is also disappointing. "There are patches of scab. But Nicola and Charlotte are a really nice sample," says yard manager, Stuart Watt.

Of the farms 120ha (300 acres) of potatoes, Saturna for processing were safely in store by early October, but 20ha (50 acres) of pre-pack varieties are still in the ground. "We are hoping well be done by the end of next week," he says.

North Norfolk grower John Storey had just half a day of lifting left on Monday. "We have had one hell of a run, but it is frustrating – there is about five-and-a-half trailer loads left in the field." Yields on light-land have been good, but heavy-land crops just had too much water, he says. &#42

POTATO PROGRESS

&#8226 79% lifted by Oct 25.

&#8226 Only 66% lifted by same date last year.

&#8226 Scotland ahead – 95% lifted.

&#8226 Big yield and quality variation.

&#8226 Ave yield expected to = last years 43t/ha.

Scottish seed

In Scotland lifting is 95% complete, estimates BPCs Rob Burrow. "They had a really good start – it was not so wet at the end of September as further south and many made an earlier start to lifting after last years problems."

At St Cyrus, on the Angus/Aberdeen border, seed grower James Reid finished lifting on Oct 17. "Thats much earlier than last years Nov 11 finish." Quality is generally good, though some Maris Piper seed is showing signs of scab, he concedes. Yields at 30-35t/ha (12-14t/acre) are about average for his seed crops.