Farmer Focus: Dry September complicates potato harvest

Harvesting our combinable crops seems a long time ago as potato and onion lifting have become our priorities.

The extremely dry weather during September have enabled us to make excellent progress. Although welcome, in many respects it has proved challenging, particularly where potato harvesting has been concerned.

The risk of bruising has been high, although warm soil conditions have helped mitigate it. Luckily, our harvester driver, Andrew, has many years’ experience of the job and has seen these conditions before. The higher-than-average daytime temperatures have made pulling the cold store temperatures down trickier than normal.

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It has been plenty warm enough to dig the crops destined for longer-term storage, but balancing the area combined with the generally good lifts we are seeing and the anticipated timescale in which we have to do it mean compromise is necessary.

Onion harvesting is also following a similar pattern, with a tremendous lift. We made significant investment in our storage and drying facilities last year to allow an increase in area to help meet local demand. This year it looks as if we are going to struggle to get them all in. In some ways it is a nice problem, but still frustrating.

Luckily, daffodil bulb planting was concluded in September, which is something of a novelty compared with recent years. This has freed up some boxes and drying walls that we can use to accommodate the onion surplus.

Our oilseed rape area is up this year, probably against the local trend. This has more to do with getting a better balance in our rotation and additional land rather than its economic prospects, but I try to take a long-term view. Some patchy germination has resulted following soil capping in places, but the majority of the crop is satisfactory at this stage. The crop has, however, required considerable field walking and trips out with the sprayer to defeat the flea beetle. Luckily,the turnip sawflies have stuck primarily to the stubble turnips, although they have certainly left their mark on the crop.

By the time you read this, I will have passed on the mantle of “Arable Farmer of the Year”. Congratulations to all the winners.

Jeremy Oatey manages 1,100ha of arable land near Plymouth in Cornwall and is 2013 Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year. Cropping includes wheat, barley, OSR, oats, beans, potatoes, onions, swedes and daffodils.