EARLY POTATO prospects were looking good across the south-west this week, with planting at least a fortnight ahead of last year.

Across the UK about 80ha (198 acres) of first earlies, all destined for plastic covering, were in by Monday, the British Potato Council’s Rob Burrow confirmed. Ground conditions are generally better than in 2002, when about 50ha (123 acres) were in by Christmas. “There is obviously still a long way to go, but if there aren’t any problems, we could see an earlier [2-3 weeks] start to harvest this year – possibly by the beginning of April.”

 Better weather is now needed for more planting, says John Forster, who is involved with the Taste of the West campaign to promote new potatoes.

 Growers in parts of West Cornwall benefited from generally good ground conditions which allowed 20ha (49 acres) to go in pre-Christmas, he says. Subsequent work has been quite slow, with only a few planting between rains. “Given another window of opportunity a lot of growers will start planting.”

Richard Thomas, who grows around 100ha (250 acres) of potatoes near Lands End, echoes the need for better conditions. Having planted 1.2ha (3 acres) of first earlies before Christmas, nothing has gone in since.

“Ground conditions were so ideal in December, we couldn”t pass up the opportunity, but it’s always a gamble to plant that early to be first onto the market.”

Once “indifferent” ground conditions improve he’ll be cracking on with his main varieties – Maris Peer, Charlotte and some Premier. paul.spackman@rbi.co.uk