Farmer Focus: Potato and onion planting starts

Spring has sprung here in Cornwall with improving weather conditions meaning the workload is steadily increasing, as the days lengthen. Our relatively small area of spring beans went in on one of the contract farms in good time and this was followed up by 25ha of spring barley up on the cliff land.

I held off drilling the remaining 14ha of spring barley following forage rape until early April, because I wanted the soil temperature to increase as it is being under sown with grass. There is always a compromise between the two crops, but even grass establishment is vital.

Fertiliser spreading and spraying continue apace. We are gradually moving down the precision farming route having started with variable rate applications of phosphate and potash three years ago. This is our second season using a tractor-mounted N Sensor when applying nitrogen.

I feel we are still learning how to get the best from these systems, but I am convinced by the arguments for them. In our location, with its relatively high rainfall and average soils, the most effective inputs are those which increase our average by improving performance on the more moderate land, rather than increasing yields on the good bits. 

Priority has now turned to potato and onion planting. Wet soil conditions have delayed the start, but with both these crops, correct planting conditions are usually more important than the calendar date.

Onions are an unusual crop to grow in the South West of England; however, we grow them to help meet the requirement for ingredients with local provenance for the Cornish pasty industry. During 2013, we invested heavily in improved drying and handling facilities for the crop, so this year we are able to increase the area we grow.

In a normal season we would be unlikely to achieve a perfect skin finish thanks to our regular rainfall, but we can produce good yields of large processing onions. This combined with our own peeling and processing facilities makes it a good crop for us.

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