Early yield fine, but no bumper spud crop – BPC
By Andrew Swallow
SECOND early potato yields are good and plantings 6% up on last seasons final figure. But that does not herald a bumper crop, says the British Potato Council.
Late-planted maincrops will drag the average yield down and wastage could well be higher this season, says BPCs market information manager Rob Burrow.
"Growers still have to get them out of the ground," he says. Blight has been well controlled, but blackleg, scab, and now secondary growth will all add to waste, he adds.
Of the estimated 145,000ha (360,000 acre) crop, 14,250ha (35,210 acres) had been lifted by the end of last week. At the same date last year, 17,290ha (42,720 acres) had been cleared.
Recent wet weather held up a few, but most delays have been due to a backlog of contracts, he says.
"The main problem is with the crispers. They are not taking the volume we initially expected," adds Norfolk-based Beeson Group agronomist James Thompson. "The growers affected are not pleased, but it has not struck home with most yet."
Some are preparing to put second earlies such as Lady Rosetta, originally destined for the green-top market, into store. "That shouldnt have a knock-on effect on prices provided some of the stores breakdown," he says.
Yields on the light Norfolk soils are 5-10% up on average, he estimates. But fears of secondary growth have caused some growers to burn off non-irrigated crops already. "It is better to take a 15t/acre crop now than 20t/acre crop later with only 10t that can be sold," Mr Thompson says.
Widespread blackleg in Saturna threatens to upset long-term storage plans for the variety. Growers are advised to lift in the dry, and make sure dry-curing is done correctly. "Two weeks at 15C, with low humidity to take the moisture away," he advises.
Mr Burrow says seed and season are to blame. "I think it would probably have originated with the seed, and this year it has had the right conditions."
But while blackleg was dramatic at the end of June/early July, it dried up in July and has not come back at Wroxham Home Farms, Norfolk, says manager, Paul Hammerton. His Hermes yields are above average, at 42t/ha (17t/acre) so far, in contrast to last years 30t/ha (12t/acre). Early this week only a third of his August contracts had been collected.
"Yields are up, but I am not sure that will be the case on heavy land," he says.
Herefordshire grower Peter Vaughan confirms that. Half his maincrop, all Estima, was planted in April, and yields are on course for his average. But half went in late. "It is going to be a lighter crop, 15t/acre instead of 20t."
Any grower storing early ware is very brave, he reckons. "Thin skinned potatoes do not keep, that is a fact. But there are still old crop potatoes in store."
Early lifted processing varieties may keep, but unless they are on contract, price prospects are not good, he maintains. "The processors will make a killing because they know they are going into store." *
• 10% of 145,000ha crop lifted.
• Second early yields good.
• Blackleg fears for storage.
• Lack of movement forcing short-term storage.
• Late plantings to cut average yields.