FIRST EARLY potato planting has got off to a good start this season, with progress over a fortnight ahead of last year, according to industry reports.
Nationally, around 80ha of first earlies – which will all be covered – have been planted so far, said the British Potato Council‘s Rob Burrow.
Progress is similar to 2002, when about 50ha had gone into the ground by Christmas, but ground conditions this season are generally better, he noted.
A similar view is shared by John Forster, involved with the Taste of the West campaign to promote new potatoes this season.
Growers in parts of West Cornwall benefited from generally good ground conditions which allowed 20ha to be planted pre-Christmas, he said.
But progress since then has been quite slow, with only a few growers able to plant between spells of rain, he said.
“Given another window of opportunity and a lot of growers will start planting,” he said.
Richard Thomas, who grows around 100ha (250 acres) of potatoes near Lands End agrees, having planted 1.2ha (3 acres) of first earlies before Christmas, nothing has gone in since.
“Ground conditions were so ideal in December, we couldn‘t pass up the opportunity, but it‘s always a gamble to plant that early to be first onto the market,” he said.
Mr Thomas described current ground conditions as “indifferent” and is looking to plant anytime from now onwards. His main varieties this season are Maris Peer, Charlotte and some Premier.
“There is obviously still a long way to go, but if there aren‘t any problems, we could see an earlier [2-3 weeks] start to harvest this year – possibly by the beginning of April,” added Mr Burrow.