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Talking roots with Darryl Shailes: A year in the life of the potato crop

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It started off with a cool, dry early phase in the spring and crops were slow to develop. Unirrigated crops were particularly sluggish and they struggled to make canopy.

 

We know from research in potatoes and other crops yield is directly linked to the amount of light capture.

 

The best performing crops need to have 100% ground cover as early as possible leading up to the longest summer days to maximise their yield potential, so slow early canopy development is highly likely to lead to reduced yields.


In early July temperatures got up to about 37degC with very bright sunshine. You would think this would be great for crop growth, but such high temperatures can stop potato canopies in their tracks.

 

Bulking slows down and crops go into a semi-dormant state just trying to survive. Irrigation can have a cooling effect and help to maintain canopies but bulking still slows down, even where growers can cope with the daily evapotranspiration rate which can reach 6-7mm per day.

 

 

We know from research in potatoes and other crops yield is directly linked to the amount of light capture.

 

The best performing crops need to have 100% ground cover as early as possible leading up to the longest summer days to maximise their yield potential, so slow early canopy development is highly likely to lead to reduced yields.


In early July temperatures got up to about 37degC with very bright sunshine. You would think this would be great for crop growth, but such high temperatures can stop potato canopies in their tracks.

 

Bulking slows down and crops go into a semi-dormant state just trying to survive. Irrigation can have a cooling effect and help to maintain canopies but bulking still slows down, even where growers can cope with the daily evapotranspiration rate which can reach 6-7mm per day.


It was shortly after this period of very hot weather the first reports of alternaria symptoms in potato canopies started to come through. If these temperatures had continued we would have seen drastically reduced yields.

 

That’s why the ability of the potato crop to survive higher temperatures and cope with heat stress is a hot topic.

 

Global potato yields are predicted to decline with global warming, so a study by scientists at the James Hutton Institute, which aims to identify the genetic markers for tolerance to heat-stress, could be of great importance in the years to come.


However, as normal in the UK at about the time of the school summer holidays, the weather cooled down to more normal temperatures, became wet and the potato crop responded well and bulking started to get back on track.

 

This bulking then continued on into September and October and even the odd field in November, leading to some very high yields where crops were left to grow.

 

Storage problems

 

This late canopy development and bulking has caused some problems, however, apart from some growers running out of storage space.

Some varieties – especially the more thin-skinned indeterminate ones which took up late N and continued to grow – were very difficult to desiccate effectively.

 

This has caused problems with skin set – which for some crops was taking up to six weeks – and also stolon detachment. This has led to reports of crops going into store with the skins only partially set and damage to the stolon end.

 

This then combined with a warm and humid start to the ambient storing season. October and November temperatures have been setting records and this has seen quite a few stores struggling to get the temperatures down and the potatoes dry. The obvious consequence is some stores are struggling with rots.

 

As I write, here in the first week of December, the temperatures remain unseasonably warm, and there is no real sign of a significant drop in the near future. I fear more stores may come under pressure from in-store problems as the days progress.

Arable Farming
Posted by Arable Farming
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