26 October 2001

Rain bogs down potato harvest: More to come

By Andrew Swallow

TORRENTIAL weekend rain and a wet forecast destroyed hopes of a speedy finish to the potato harvest earlier this week, with some fearing a repeat of last years crop write-offs.

East Anglia is worst hit, Cambridge having been soaked by 90mm (3.5in) of rain last Sunday alone. While some growers have finished, others have over half their crop left to lift. For those on heavier ground or further north that is a grave concern.

"We are struggling," admits Robin Bosomworth from near Thirsk. "Weve got 40% of our crop left and its all on heavy land."

Late planting delayed dry matter accumulation in the Pentland Dell processing crop and catchy weather since the second week of September has hampered harvest.

"Once it gets wet at this time of year it doesnt dry out and if we get a frost now the sugars will be affected."

However, quality so far has been better than usual, though yields are only average, he adds.

The BPC says 70-75% of the total crop was cleared in East Anglia and 71% nationally by the end of last week. That compares with only 55% last year. But after the weekends deluge some fear crops will be lost again.

"Were not getting on very well," admits Charles Tabor of Tabor Farms, near Rochford, Essex. "There are some I dont think well get at all."

With 34ha (85 acres) of his 49ha (120-acre) crop left, powered drive wheels were being fitted to his Grimme harvester earlier this week to help get at them.

In Kent some low-lying crops have already been written off, says grower Edward Spanton from near Ramsgate. "On the marsh theyve shut the gate and well have to wait and see what theyre like in the spring." He has 14ha (35 acres) left but all of it is on sandy land so he is not too concerned, he adds.

In Herefordshire William Smith also had to wait for dry matters to build, but as of Monday had just 15ha of Russet Burbank from a 150ha (400 acre) potato crop left to lift.

"Yields are low. There are a lot of tubers but they are quite small. Id say we are 10-15% down on other years."

More tubers has worked in the favour of predominantly salad grower Richard Mann of Mann Group, Ikem, near Woodbridge, Suffolk.

"Yields are 5-6% up but Ive no idea why. Normally late planting reduces tuber numbers, but thats not the case this year."

Of the groups 445ha (1100 acre) crop only 15% is left, 40ha (100 acres) of which is on sandy soil programmed for November lifting in any case. &#42

SPUDS IN THE MUD

Some cleared, some struggling.

Processing dry matter delays.

Pre-pack scab concerns.

Some write-offs probable.

SPUDSINTHEMUD

&#8226 Some cleared, some struggling.

&#8226 Processing dry matter delays.

&#8226 Pre-pack scab concerns.

&#8226 Some write-offs probable.