12 March 1999

Wet weather puts establishment on hold

A sodden start to March has

not been welcome on

farmers weeklys root-

growing barometer farms.

Andrew Blake reports

RE-SATURATED soils have put root crop establishment on hold for at least a week at North Farm, Felton Butler, near Shrewsbury.

This springs workload includes 28ha (70 acres) of potatoes and 21ha (52 acres) of sugar beet.

"But we always plan to go when the ground is fit, not by calendar date. So I am not unduly concerned at the moment," says Andrew Cooke. With potatoes the past two seasons have reinforced the message that early sowing is no guarantee of best yields. "If you muck them in youll muck them out."

Scottish Maris Peer elite seed for loose-skinned, July lifting arrived from merchant Scott & Newman two weeks ago. All 45t of 35-55mm was in good order. Contractor Stuart Evans is booked and ready to move in with his de-stoner and planter when required.

The balance of seed, expected to go on at about 3.3t/ha (27cwt/acre) depending on tuber count, will be once-grown. "We are using home-saved for the first time because we were a bit concerned about possible shortages."

This years seed was bought last autumn for £260/t. His home-saved works out at about £200/t. "People say seed is short, but I would say do not be fooled. Watch your costs. It will be amazing how many mids could end up being planted."

Chitting is not yet practised at North Farm. "Last year if you chitted early and got early crops you missed out on best prices." But the technique may be considered if growing under plastic is adopted.

"At the moment we store seed in 1t bags. If sprouts looked as though they were getting out of hand we would hire cold store space to hold them. But we have never had to do that yet."

Half the spud ground is already mucked and ploughed, and the other half should dry well as it turns over, Mr Cooke believes. "It is some of our lightest land. We apply plenty of fym and chicken muck, but always take it into account when deciding on fertiliser. We are unlikely to need more than 10 bags an acre of 15:15:20 depending on autumn soil analysis and advice from Denis Buckley of ADAS. Sometimes we have only needed five bags."

ADAS advice was that the seed be treated with Fungazil (imazalil) and Rovral (iprodione). "The Rovral means we can get away with planting slightly less, because it helps produce more tubers," says Mr Cooke.

The crop is grown on 90cm (36in) rows. "We try to achieve as much of it in the 25-55mm bracket, depending on markets. This year the supermarkets are pushing for the smaller end. That generally means 3-4in spacing depending on seed size. We have been up to 8in.

"We tend to get about 70% in the 40-60mm range, with 15% each smaller and larger." As always the exercise is a compromise between yield and expected returns, he says.

Maris Peer seems to suit the farms silty loam giving about 50t/ha (20t/acre) after irrigation and grading off-farm, says Mr Cooke. The other main option, Estima, would need more costly post-harvest grading and possibly storage before being moved, he believes.

ROOT TIPS

&#8226 Spud seed not so tight?

&#8226 Seed-bed must be right.

&#8226 Chitting not used.

&#8226 Maris Peer suits soil.

&#8226 Madison beet disappoints.