Brian Hammond is farm
manager for Carnreagh
Farms at the 182ha (450-
acre) Ballyalloly Farm,
Comber, Co Down where he
grows 50ha (125 acres) of
potatoes as well as cereals
and oilseed rape
POTATO harvest finished on Nov 3 and the wheat was all drilled the following morning, thanks to our contractors who came in close behind us – I thought they were going to overtake me a couple of times.
With gross yields of about 37t/ha (15t/acre) and a low baker fraction, the potatoes have been disappointing this year, despite considerable effort and expense to achieve the required quality.
Everything got off to a good start in April. Planting progressed steadily in the best conditions I have ever known. The soil was warm and dry and easily worked. Then on May Bank Holiday weekend everything started to go wrong, with 64mm (2.5in) of freezing rain plus night frost.
More deluges followed through May and June, giving almost 300mm (12in) of rain in eight weeks. Seed was slow to emerge and never really got going. Hollows and poorly drained areas never emerged at all.
Even though potatoes dislike such conditions weeds seem to thrive. Herbicide timing was difficult and Titus (rimsulfuron) proved ineffective, especially against knot-grass, which completely took over in some fields.
Then there was the blight- but thats another story. To rub salt into the wound, these conditions appeared to have been localised. Travelling 20 miles in any direction, yields and quality have been excellent. It all goes to prove that following agronomic procedures to the letter is not enough. You still need a little luck as well.
Last Thursday we had a meeting with our potato packers (Wilsons Country), whom we have always found to be fair and helpful, to discuss varieties for next year. After a disappointing season it would be easy to make sweeping changes. Following much debate it was decided to stick with Navan and Pentland Dell, cut the area of Dunbar Standards (an old favourite grown here), and try some Cultra and Maris Piper. *
Despite every effort, spuds have been a disappointment for Brian Hammond this year, failing to deliver yield or a big baker fraction.