Spud Special: Concerns over seed and cultivation quality

What a difference a year makes, this time last year my clients in Cheshire had nearly finished planting. This year they have only just started, with a weather window in early March allowing planting of first earlies, which were soon covered with fleece to at least keep the worst of the cold weather out. Since then little progress has been made.

I was once told that potato growing was all about getting the fundamentals right, those being seed quality and cultivations. This spring I have concerns about both. For a number of growers seed management upon delivery can be a challenge, particularly if planting is delayed and seed cannot be decanted into boxes and ventilated. At least this process also allows seed inspection to take place and aids the decision making process regarding handling and seed treatments. Remember that there is only a limited time to register complaints with suppliers, once the seed is in the planter it is probably too late.

Cultivations are likely to be a challenge; I cannot remember a spring where soil conditions have been so wet. I am encouraging my clients to be flexible in their approach this year, sub-soiling is probably a non-starter as it is likely to pull slots through the soil as opposed to lifting and shattering. A ridged tine to open up and aerate soils at depth might be better, but subsequent operations will need to be timely to avoid drying out too much.

I question whether we over work our soils and as a result when we do get extreme rainfall events we suffer with slumped, anaerobic soil conditions. Is running a bed-tiller in front of a de-stoner, just to speed the de-stoning operation up the right thing to do? Particularly when soils are as fragile as they are at present.

Most modern planters have shaper hoods on them leaving a lovely looking and uniformly shaped ridge profile, but it will be important to make sure that they are not forcing and compacting soil under them. Even more attention to detail is required.

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