Potato planting is proceeding much faster than last season, with half last year’s total area already completed.
Following prolonged dry weather, up to 62,000ha had been set by the start of the week, the British Potato Council’s Rob Burrow estimated.
“That compares with only 36,500ha at the same time last year.” Last year’s total crop area was about 127,000ha.
The relatively rosy picture comes despite heavy rain in many regions in February which saw early planting attempts thwarted by sodden subsoils.
“In most areas it’s going very well,” said Mr Burrow. “Even in Scotland, ware growers have been getting on, and elsewhere everyone is reporting conditions as excellent.”
Some south-western growers were already considering irrigating, he noted. Shropshire-based Farmers Weekly Barometer farmer Richard Solari began planting Accord and Dundrod on his light land on 7 March and hoped to complete his Shepody and Maris Piper, in all about 89ha, by midweek.
“For the first two weeks conditions were a bit iffy,” he said. “But we’re now planting into talcum powder.”
The only potential downside was that with so many growers making such good progress, higher than normal yields could depress prices, suggested Mr Solari. “But there’s still a very long way to go and we could still be hit by frost.”
Last year FW Barometer James Wray did not begin planting on his Northern Ireland farm until 17 April. But he had finished 40ha by the start of this week and expected to have a similar amount done by today (20 April), leaving just 16ha to do.
“It’s unbelievable weather and couldn’t be better,” he said. “The de-stoners are flying and we’ve never done so many acres in a day. The only thing I can complain about is a broken air-con switch in my tractor.”
His progress follows the bonus of being able to salvage about 5ha of Cabaret left under water earlier (Arable, 30 March). “I reckon we got 12-15t/acre. The quality was fair and they went straight off the farm at £230/t, so it was worth doing.”
Beet away well
This season’s sugar beet crop is off to a good start on most farms, according to British Sugar.
“Most of the crop went in into very good conditions and with the weather we’ve had some of it is already at the two-leaf stage,” said spokesman Paul Bee.
However, growers should be cautious about first herbicide sprays should frost return, he warned.