Potato growers playing it safe with late-sown crop

21 September 2001

Potato growers playing it safe with late-sown crop

By Andrew Blake and Tom Hood

DESPITE late plantings, this years potatoes are being lifted sooner than usual as growers strive to avoid a repeat of last seasons problems.

And although crop area is 2.6% up on last year – totalling an estimated 149,600ha – progress is well ahead of the 17% lifted by the same time last autumn.

Ideal conditions before last weeks rain saw good progress, says the BPCs Rob Burrow, with nearly one-fifth of the area cleared by the weekend.

"Last seasons memories are still fresh. At least 7000ha were abandoned. This year, growers are less inclined to risk deteriorating weather to make an extra tonne/hectare."

An increased area of second earlies also partly explains the figures.

Average maincrop yields are expected to be down, but not by as much as expected earlier. "There is a huge variation, and some Yorks processing crops have done well."

Common scab is the main quality problem with high levels in some crops. Alternate scorching and wet summer spells are probably to blame, he says. "Its shown up even in fields with controlled irrigation."

Reports indicate better progress in the west than the east. Growers for Merseyside-based Broadacre Farms have had a good month, says Darryl Kenyon. "We havent had a day off for rain, which is very unusual in the west."

Quality of Morene, Shepody, Estima and salad varieties is fairly good, but yields of late planted second earlies after the hot June are below average. "The plants just shut down once the very high temperatures were reached."

In Shropshire, Simon Heath is two weeks ahead of schedule at Stockton, near Newport, having started on irrigated crops two mon-ths ago. Maris Piper at 57-62t/ha (23-25t/acre) is "quite pleasing".

"There was a slight quality issue on some pre-pack, which was higher in scab. But its not too bad."

But at Duxford, Cambs, Robert Smith is a fortnight adrift after late planting meant lifting of his 190ha began only on Sept 2. "Its going very steadily. Im frustrated with slow skin set."

Estima is on 49t/ha (20t/acre), but main crop King Edward is "a bit light" at 37t/ha (15t/acre). "I have been pleased with the quality so far. Theres a lot of scab around, but we seem to have avoided it by irrigating at the right time."

Harvest is equally late for B and C Potatoes at Aylsham in Norfolk after 65mm of rain in the first two weeks of September, the average for the whole month.

"I cant see us finishing until November," says director Tony Bambridge. Quality meets customer specifications, but late planting has left yields 8-10% below where they should be.

&#8226 As many as 1000 growers may have given up potatoes after last seasons difficulties. This years register records about 6000 producers compared with 7000 in 2000, says Mr Burrow. "There were 76,000 in 1960!" &#42


&#8226 Ahead of 2000 on bigger area.

&#8226 Growers keen to lift earlier.

&#8226 Late planting yield toll.

&#8226 Common scab main problem.

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