Potato producers face water challenge

Water is set be one of the biggest issues facing potato producers, according to East Anglian grower Tim Papworth.

The need to be able to demonstrate efficiency in the use of water for irrigation to environmental authorities would be a major challenge, predicted Mr Papworth, who grows 240ha of potatoes in Norfolk.

“In my part of the world people are now doing business plans and cropping histories and providing an increasing amount of detail to justify the renewal of their water licences,” he told the SAC Association of Potato Producers’ Conference in Perth.

Irrigating potatoes

Mr Papworth is a member of the Broadland Agriculture Water Abstraction Group (BAWAG) which has 170 members abstracting 19m cu m of water. The group runs courses providing advice, including scheduling and the correct use of irrigator equipment, to maximise water efficiency.

“Very often irrigator machines are just left to do what they do and no one really knows how much water is being pumped on and whether they should adjust it,” said Mr Papworth.


BAWAG members have a water audit including a checklist on areas such as irrigator pump calibration. He predicted irrigation units would become much more energy-efficient than earlier models.

“Fresh water will be one of the biggest issues we face as potato producers but we are also seeing ramped-up costs in fuel, ag-chemicals and machinery,” he added.

It was becoming harder to buy machinery as much was going overseas to Europe and Russia. Lack of skilled labour was another major problem.

“Colleges are not turning out experienced tractor drivers who can handle computers and modern technology.

“They are producing half-baked managers so my labour is coming more and more from Poland. I get good staff who are keen to work, which is refreshing. In a short space of time I will be employing foreign labour all year round rather than just seasonal,” he added.

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