Spud Special: Plan potato harvest carefully

Oh the joy of growing potatoes! There is always a challenge somewhere. Certainly in the area in which I cover across northern England and into the Scottish Borders there is a huge amount of variability in crops. Generally size is not an issue and it is mainly tuber number which is determining whether a crop is high or low yielding.


If anything most crops are on the bold side so making decisions on the timing of burn down will be crucial if oversize is to be prevented. Quality is also extremely variable mainly due to Blackleg, but latterly powdery scab seems to be more prevalent due to the cool and damp conditions in August.


Blackleg is likely to be a hot topic for the rest of this year and into next, particularly with the amounts found in ware crops due for storage and the amounts found in seed crops, particularly in parts of the UK where there has been more rainfall.

Harvest and store management of these crops will be crucial. Key points for minimising the spread of Blackleg bacteria are achieving 100% skin set before harvest and positive ventilation in store.


Pre-harvest, crops should be checked well before lifting to ascertain quality. Also, determine order of lifting and handling after harvest. Growers should look for the level of blackleg; condition of mother tubers – have they already rotted away or likely to spread bacteria at harvesting – daughter tubers showing soft rots, or tuber blight.


Growers should prepare a plan for harvest. Set up the harvester correctly for each field, aiming to minimise damage and bruising. Harvest as early as skin set – and the weather –  allows this season.


Make sure that manned harvesters are fully utilised this year to remove rots, mother tubers etc. Keep boxes from waterlogged areas or with excessive soft rots separate. When tubers are harvested respiration increases, heat is produced with the risk of condensation.  Ventilating tubers post-harvest is crucial, even if they are lifted dry.


Optimise ventilation capacity – it’s better to ventilate 50% of a stock well rather than 100% poorly. Judge how to handle crops for drying and temperature pull down based on risks and market. Monitor stores carefully after loading especially for temperature differentials and air flow.


Happy and safe harvesting!


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