Slow planting progress worrying potato growers
By Andrew Blake
POTATO plantings have been slower than ever this season, with less than a third of the crop area in the ground earlier this week.
With little prospect of soils drying significantly the lack of progress is causing concern among growers, the British Potato Council acknowledges
Sodden soils allowed little field work last week leaving less than 40,000ha (99,000 acres) planted, it estimates. By the same time last year 129,600ha (320,000 acres) were sown.
Regional figures for the west midlands and the north of England paint an even gloomier picture, with plantings running at only 20% of last years level.
"Some crops, particularly those in the east, have been under water for a considerable time," says the BPCs Rob Burrow. "Seed in those cases has been lost and some re-planting may be necessary."
"The only progress has been on lighter land," adds Mike Cooper, BPCs head of field services. "There is a long way to go."
Maincrop markets are already firming, stocks of quality material are tight and prices continue upwards, notes Mr Burrow.
"But there are dangers to markets if wet conditions persist." The gap between crops could become too wide and lead to an accumulation of second earlies ready for harvest all at once towards the back end of the early season, he warns.
Potato impasse. 100mm (4in) of rain in the past three weeks has turned Peter Vaughans river silt near Leominster, Herefordshire, to plasticine and left him with just 9ha (22 acres) out of 142ha (350 acres) of Estima potatoes for pre-packing planted. It will be a week at least before he can re-start and all his mini-chitted seed has been returned to the cold store to keep it in check. Some land is so wet it may even have to be reploughed, and yields could be down 12t/ha (5t/acre), he estimates. "We are almost sure to be planting in June."
• Slowest ever April progress.
• Less than one-third done.
• Yield penalty fears growing.
• Extra seed care needed.
• Cultivations under scrutiny.