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POTATO GROWER CHALLENGE

29 September 2000

POTATO GROWER CHALLENGE

The farmers weekly/Aventis

Potato Grower Challenge

2000 aims to promote crop

knowledge, husbandry skills

and an awareness of

environmental and consumer

issues. Here Charles Abel

profiles one of the runners-up

who does more than most

TO maintain potato profits Peter Venables is pursuing alternative markets to supplement chip shop production developed over 40 years on the sandy loam soils at Baynhall Farm, Kempsey near Worcester.

"We can irrigate for yield here, but not for skin finish, so secondary pre-pack is the best we can hope for. With the right dry matter and fry colour second early chipping has been the more reliable outlet. But we need to expand the crop area to contain costs, which is why we now grow pre-pack Estima on silt across the River Severn and organic Sante 15 miles away on Bredon Hill."

Meeting customer requirements is a key concern. "In future I want to move conventional production closer to the organic system," says Mr Venables.

Using methods seen by the public to be more acceptable, together with even tighter control of available chemicals and the more stringent requirements of the Assured Produce scheme will go some way towards satisfying a public that has become almost paranoid over food safety, he says.

A good rotation is an important starting point, chippers following four veg crops on the sandy loam, pre-pack Estima following four cereals on the silt and the organic crop following a two year grass/clover ley and one cereal.

Every field is analysed for nutrients and PCN in autumn and base nutrients applied as liquid at planting. "Crops look better and yield better than with granular placement," says Mr Venables.

Nitrogen contents in the liquid are adjusted according to target market and reduced further where calcium nitrate is planned for later to reduce internal rust spot risks. Sap testing directs foliar feeding.

Strict volunteer control, clean seed and a one in five rotation mean PCN counts have never topped 2cysts/g and nematicides have not been used for 15 years. "It is something we have just got to stay on top of." Adding turf to the rotation could further boost volunteer control through regular mowing.

Careful cultivations ensure good seed/soil contact and speed emergence, a crucial factor given the late planting and early harvesting to avoid flooding risks and enhance cashflow.

Land is sub-soiled, ploughed and bed-formed by late October, then bed-tilled if required and stone and clod separated pre-planting.

Seed is kept once to contain costs and Dutch is considered healthier than Scottish for blackleg-prone varieties. All seed is split graded 35-45mm and 45-55mm, so planting rates can be fine tuned to meet market demands.

Tight chits are grown to speed emergence, Accord getting 350 day degrees, while Estima and Sante receive 250. Tuber counts help avoid sourcing up to 6% excess seed. All seed is checked for disease and treated accordingly to maximise skin quality.

All conventional crops are irrigated according to ADAS Irriguide advice. A move to booms is planned to improve accuracy.

Blight spraying is guided by ADAS advice, a Spra Coupe being used to apply product at high forward speed using tilting nozzles to improve canopy penetration.

"We make sure we go through the crop a different way each time, which seems to help control."

Test digs to check tuber shape and size direct crop desiccation, the goal being to maximise the baker fraction in pre-pack crops.

Acid is shunned so a Greenburner bought to follow flailing in the organic crop is being compared with Harvest this season. Skin set was good last year. "It was also very evident that blackgrass was controlled very well in the ridges after Greenburning," he adds.

Farm staff use the Grimme Variant lifter with Dahlman-type rollers and a watering kit to cut damage in dry conditions. Crops are graded on-farm and bagged for merchants to sell into the chip-shop trade or loaded into boxes for storage and pre-packing by MBM.

Environmental policy includes a strict rotation to avoid the need for nematicide, avoidance of acid for desiccation and use of OP insecticide on seed areas only, and only pre-flowering.

Organic spuds

Last year 9ha (23 acres) were tried on heavy clay 15 miles away at Bredon Hill. Yields varied greatly, but look more consistent on twice the area this year, thanks to better seed-bed preparation and organic nutrition. Minimal rainfall means little blight. "Weve had less than 2in since planting on May 15 – it must be one of the driest potato fields in Europe." Late planting with repeated cultivations before and re-ridging after have kept mainly broad-leaved weeds at bay. Sante is grown for its blight resistance and market demand, with crops marketed through a range of packers supplying leading supermarkets. "It really is crop marketing made easy." Mr Venables would like to expand the crop to 24ha (60 acres), with irrigation to guarantee pre-pack quality. The latter is unlikely in the short-term, he admits.

Judges views

The judges were impressed with Mr Venables enthusiasm for the crop, making the most of opportunities as they arise and managing crops for maximum returns. Overheads are cut by buying equipment second-hand and using a professional contractor for planting. "The condition of the organic crop shows Mr Venables is right on top of agronomy issues," says Aventis Crop Science judge Bill Lankford. However, marketing could be more pro-active, says BPC judge Damian Baker. "Mr Venables is clearly seizing opportunities as they arise, but could perhaps do even more to fine tune his systems to meet the precise needs of buyers more closely in future," he says.

PETER VENABLES

* 56ha near Worcester/Evesham.

* Chipping, pre-pack + organic.

* 647mm rain, part irrigated.

* 52t/ha Estima pre-pack on silt, 40t/ha Accord chipping on sandy loam, 31t/ha Sante organic on heavy clay.

* £712/ha var costs – £270 own seed, £219 fert, £31 herbi, £108 fungi, £24 icide, £60 desiccant.

Organic spuds

Last year 9ha (23 acres) were tried on heavy clay 15 miles away at Bredon Hill. Yields varied greatly, but look more consistent on twice the area this year, thanks to better seed-bed preparation and organic nutrition. Minimal rainfall means little blight. "Weve had less than 2in since planting on May 15, – it must be one of the driest potato fields in Europe." Late planting with repeated cultivations before and re-ridging after have kept mainly broad-leaved weeds at bay. Sante is grown for its blight resistance and market demand, with crops marketed through a range of packers supplying leading supermarkets. "It really is crop marketing made easy." Mr Venables would like to expand the crop to 24ha (60 acres), with irrigation to guarantee pre-pack quality. The latter is unlikely in the short-term, he admits.

PETER VENABLES

&#8226 56ha near Worcester/Evesham.

&#8226 Chipping, pre-pack + organic.

&#8226 647mm rain, part irrigated.

&#8226 52t/ha Estima pre-pack on silt, 40t/ha Accord chipping on sandy loam, 31t/ha Sante organic on heavy clay.

&#8226 £712/ha var costs – £270 own seed, £219 fert, £31 herbi, £108 fungi, £24 insecticide, £60 desiccant.

Production methods that meet customer concerns are a key part of Peter Venables (left) potato strategy, seen here in an organic crop of Sante, with competition judges Bill Lankford of Aventis, BPCs Damian Baker and Charles Abel of FW(right).

Judges views

The judges were impressed with Mr Venables enthusiasm for the crop, making the most of opportunities as they arise and managing crops for maximum returns. Overheads are cut by buying equipment second-hand and using a professional contractor for planting. "The condition of the organic crop shows Mr Venables is right on top of agronomy issues," says Aventis Crop Science judge Bill Lankford. However, marketing could be more pro-active, says BPC judge Damian Baker. "Mr Venables is clearly seizing opportunities as they arise, but could perhaps do even more to fine tune his systems to meet the precise needs of buyers more closely in future," he says.

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POTATO GROWER CHALLENGE

16 July 1999

POTATO GROWER CHALLENGE

ARE you a tip top potato producer? If you are making the most of your potato growing opportunities why not have a go at our latest easy-to-enter competition. You could be in line for the £1000 top prize or one of the 100 Maglite torches on offer for the first 100 entries received.

In association with the tuber protectant Fungazil 100 SL, FARMERS WEEKLY is looking for growers who can most ably demonstrate the skills required to profit from potato production. Top yield is not the sole criteria. We are looking for evidence of input use matched to the potential of the crops you are growing, low overhead costs and environmental responsibility too.

Entrants who successfully complete the questionnaire stage of the competition will go on to a round of on-farm judging.

To enter, answer the simple questions below. Who knows, you could be £1000 better off before the whole of this years crop is even lifted!

Sponsors message

WITH the important contribution that potato crops make to whole farm incomes, meticulous crop management for optimum yield, quality and ultimately margin is essential. Appropriately, this challenge to identify and promote best practice is being supported by Fungazil 100 SL, the popular potato tuber protectant from Rhône-Poulenc Agriculture.

Use of Fungazil 100 SL (imazalil) in conjunction with cultural practices, such as earlier lifting and temperature controlled storage, can control diseases such as silver scurf, skin spot, gangrene and dry rot, which unchecked can degrade skin finish, cause rotting, weight-loss through dehydration and potentially exclude crops from high value markets.

In addition to controlling the main storage diseases, Fungazil 100 SL offers additional advantages over traditional thiabendazole based products in terms of effectiveness against fungicide resistant strains and marketing flexibility.

While fungal resistance to thiabendazole (TBZ) has increased, to date there are no reports of tuber pathogen resistance to imazalil.

Marketing flexibility is also increased with Tesco sanctioning the use of Fungazil 100 SL under its Natures Choice protocol for use where cultural methods may not provide adequate control of fungal infection. And on a more practical level, Fungazil 100 SL treated ware tubers are not subject to a statutory withholding period, unlike TBZ products, which carry a three-week harvest interval.

Cost-effective at a treatment cost of about £5/t, Fungazil 100 SL can pay for itself many times over – the question is can you make the Potato Grower Challenge cost-effective for you?

Read the rules

1 The competition is open to all bona fide farmers and farm managers in the UK who grow potatoes.

2 Complete the entry form in ink and post or fax to the address on the coupon.

3 Closing date is July 30, 1999.

4 Late, incomplete, defaced and illegible entries will be disqualified, as will any which do not comply with these rules. No responsibility will be accepted for entries delayed or lost in the post.

5 The judges will be appointed by FARMERS WEEKLY and Rhone-Poulenc. Their decision will be final. No correspondence will be entered into.

6 The winner and finalists will be announced and presentations made at a reception at Potato 99, near Newark on Sept 8. Entrants must agree to attend the event and co-operate in subsequent publicity.

£1000 to win

The winner will be presented with a cheque for £1000 and a trophy to keep. All finalists will be invited to an awards presentation at the Potato 99 event near Newark, Notts, on Sept 8. This years event includes a host of practical agronomy demonstrations. All finalists receive a special, framed certificate.

POTATO CHALLENGE ENTRY FORM

Name……………………………………………………………………………………..

Address………………………………………………………………………………….

…………………………………………………………………………………………….

…………………………………………………………………………………………….

Tel………………………………. Fax………………………………………..

Farm size……………………… Potato area……………………………..

Varieties grown…………………………………………………………………………

Typical yield……………………………………………………………………………..

Q1 What nutrient deficiency shows up as black/brown spotting along leaf veins? a. Manganese b. Phosphate c. Nitrate

Q2 Which virus is NOT transmitted by aphids? a. Virus X b. Virus Y c. Leaf roll virus

Q3 Which broad-leaved weed has a heart-shaped first true leaf? a. knotgrass b. redshank c. black bindweed

Q4 Which nematode type is increasing rapidly across the UK? a. G rostochiensis b. G pallida c. Both

Q5 Which storage disease is unaffected by fungicides? a. dry rot b. soft rot c. skin spot

Q6 How quickly should potato wounds heal in store? a. 24 hours b. 10-20 days c. 1 month.

Q7 How deep do significant potato roots go? a. 70cm b. 150cm c. 250cm

Send to: Potato Challenge, FARMERS WEEKLY, Quadrant House, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5AS. Fax: 0181 652 4005. Closing date: Friday July 30 1999.

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