1 October 1999

Yorks grower lands top prize with seed-to-store strategy

Seed quality is as vital for

processing potatoes as for

any other market.

Edward Long finds out how

the northern winner of the

McCain champion potato

grower competition

approached seed issues

ATTENTION to detail from seed selection to harvest and storage is the key to a Yorkshire family farms success in producing potatoes for processing.

Brian Swinbank, with sons Watson and David, grows 40ha (100 acres) at Greystone, Caldwell near Richmond. The farming business, which trades as W Swinbank & Sons, won the McCain Foods Champion Growers competition in the north this year.

"We have grown for McCain for over 20 years and take great care to do a decent job," says Watson Swinbank. "This involves a lot of attention to detail starting with the seed. We source it direct from the companys growers in Scotland, or from its seed store at Montrose.

"We grow 60 acres of Pentland Dell and 20 acres each of Russet Burbank and Shepody. We want healthy certified SE2 seed. For Burbank and Dell it is graded 35/50mm and the Shepody is cut to make a 55/65mm grade."

All the seed is treated with the imazalil-based fungicide Fungazil to protect it from dry rot, gangrene, silver scurf and skin spot.

To ensure it is handled gently the Dell seed is collected by the familys own transport in late January. When it arrives on the farm it is trayed up and put into an insulated purpose-built chitting shed. The temperature is increased to 9-10C.

After a few days the eyes start to open and the heat is reduced to 6-7C. The aim is to gain 200 to 250 day degrees by the target planting date in early April. In a wet spring when planting is delayed the heat in the chitting shed is reduced by lowering the temperature and opening the vents.

Burbank and Shepody seed is not collected until mid-February as it needs less chitting time. The aim for both is to get the eyes open before planting. These varieties are planted first, going in as soon as seed-bed conditions allow, usually in late March.

Gentle planter

"We bought a Standen Big Boy 2-row automatic planter because it is gentle with the seed. There is absolutely no point taking the trouble to get the chits we need on Dell only to have them torn off by the planter which can be the weak link in the chain.

"With the big machine we aim to plant 10 acres a day. They go into a bed arrangement with two 36in wide rows. The target population for the Dell is 31,250/ha and the seedrate to achieve this is 2.5t/ha. For Burbank we need 1.9t/ha of seed to achieve the target of 29,000/ha, and 3.5t of Shepody is needed to meet the 27,250/ha target."

Normally the crop follows cereals or grass leys in the rotation. Land is ploughed just a week before planting, it is then rotovated and ridged up before the bed tiller moves in.

"The biggest change to our management approach in recent years has been to the way we handle seed. With Dell it is vital to harvest a mature crop with high dry matter tubers with a good fry colour. By getting the front-end management right we benefit from more uniform crop establishment which knocks-on right through the season so we end up with better maturity, and better processing quality."

Liquid fertiliser is used, with rates set according to soil analysis to achieve the companys recommendations. Blight remains the biggest single threat, but even in the two recent high pressure seasons none has been seen at Greystone.

The control strategy involves the use of two systemic fungicides at the start of the season, then protectants before a tin-based product is used at the end of the season.

Shepody is the first variety lifted, it is normally ready in late August, and it is taken from the field straight into the processing factory. The other varieties are ready at the end of September, the aim is to finish lifting by mid-October.

"Our target yield for the Dell is 18-20t/acre with 16-18t from the other varieties. Until this season the Dell was stored on the farm and the Burbank went into a McCains store, but we have recently built a 1000t box store for this seasons crop.

"We could not have invested in the new store if we were not confident of being able to produce a good crop. We can only do this by paying a great deal of attention to all aspects of crop management from the seed onwards," Watson Swinbank concludes.