Arable Farmer Focus: Potato disease scare stuns Seth Pascoe

Better late than never. Those four simple words accurately sum up this year’s harvest.

Cool and wet weather continued in early September and some areas experienced frosts, bringing combines to a standstill. But in the small spells of dry weather we made some progress and we finally finished harvesting our wheat.

Our focus has now switched to potatoes. A strong warm wind has helped dry out the potato hills to near-perfect moisture content for the harvesting and storage equipment, resulting in clean potatoes entering the storage shed. But as harvest started, I dug up a plant while waiting for the equipment to get to the field. To my horror, every tuber was infected with pink rot (phytophthora spp). Once the harvester got going, thankfully we found only occasional infected tubers, which was a big relief. Yields are disappointing, but the quality is reasonable, provided we can successfully store the crop.

Another week of favourable weather and potato harvest will be completed. Then we will bale second-cut timothy, combine the oilseed rape and make a start on fieldwork preparations for next season. We also need to combine our grain maize, which I’m told won’t happen until late October or even early November, after several harsh frosts. I now fully understand and appreciate the need for heated seats and heaters in combines.

Fields in southern Alberta are generally set up in a grid pattern of one-mile blocks, with roads on at least two sides, if not all four. A recent drill miss in a 56ha field of winter wheat was embarrassingly in full view of a busy main route to the USA border. Sadly, the trusty excuse of “that’s just a skylark plot for my ELS points” carries no weight here – instead all I get is blank faces.

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