25 September 1998

Traceability key for French

Integrated crop management

is a hot topic in the French

potato industry, with

growers keen to adopt its

principles in order to keep

the supermarkets happy.

Andrew Swallow reports

POTATO growers in France are under pressure from supermarkets wanting tighter production controls.

Traceability is paramount, and integrated crop management is fast becoming a prerequisite for premium markets.

Growers and co-operatives are bending over backwards to meet their demands. "Everything is traceable right back to the grower, even to the field," says Michel Radet, who grows 30ha (74acres) of potatoes for the washed supermarket market.

He is adamant that production raisonneé – ICM French style – is a vital component for the future profitability of his 140ha (345acre) farm in Champagne.

"Our reasons are primarily economic, for good profitability. But it also requires a certain state of mind," he says. "We let the climate and the soil choose our crops, for example."

That means a diverse rotation, including lucerne for cutting and a cocksfoot ley for grazing, both as two-year breaks. Those help cut herbicide costs across the rotation and improve soils. "These crops are very good for structure and the lucerne adds nitrogen."

De-clodding is never necessary for the potatoes and soil-borne pests are not a problem for potatoes or sugar beet, the two most profitable crops grown on the farm.

Fertiliser policy is based on organic sources. The soil is naturally very rich in phosphate, sugar beet factory waste provides much of the potash requirement, and farmyard manure is spread two years prior to potatoes to build up fertility.

Soil samples before planting check this, before 100-200kg/ha (80-160units/acre) of nitrogen is applied to the seedbed according to need.

This season Monalisa was grown on land with irrigation. But fields further away went down to Caesar, a less water-sensitive variety. Blight control is in response to regional warnings, which usually means 8-10 sprays a season.

Thermal defoliation means no chemicals are used at harvesting. Despite costing about £74/ha (£30/acre) more than diquat, Mr Radet believes it is well worthwhile for instant kill of both crop and any disease present. It also reduces pesticide use so close to harvest.

Expanding production with rented land is ruled out, for fear of losing quality control. "I need to know the field well to be able to produce what is wanted. It would be too risky," he says.

Marketing is through his local co-operative, Pomme De Terre de Champagne. All 120 growers in the group are working to reduce inputs, even if not pursuing production raisonneé itself, he says.

Farm details

Soil: Chalky loam

Cropping (ha)

Potatoes 30

Wheat 25

Lucerne 20

Rotational grass 18

Sugar beet 15

Spring barley 15

Combining peas 15

Set-aside 3

Total 141

Storage: 820t refrigerated

Potato Growing Costs

£/ha

Seed 700

Fertiliser 126

Herbicide 42

Fungicide 158-210

Insecticide 21

Irrigation 210

Defoliation (gas) 116

TOTAL 1373-1425

Output 50t/ha

Price £74/t*

Total 3700

G MARGIN 2275-2327

*Minimum price received so far this season.

(£1.00=9.50FFR)