Planting is well under way and by the time this is read many will have finished.
In contrast to most seasons, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between how the lighter soils are progressing when compared to the more well-bodied land. It seems to be all down to the large variability in winter rainfall.
We’ve seen how the terrible winter floods have affected many parts of the West, yet in some parts of East Anglia it’s also been the wettest winter for several years.
This wet and very mild winter has also had a big part to play on the huge variation in the quality of the stored crop. With prices firming for good quality stored potatoes, it’s important we reflect on the problems the winter conditions have bought to the ambient bulk stores.
Anyone who was relying on ambient storage – whether in a potato or onion crop – has had a difficult time getting temperature and humidity levels down, especially in the earlier part of the season. This, combined with the thin skins of many modern processing varieties which seem to take forever to set and some bacterial infections going into store, has caused huge problems.
If this unpredictable weather continues, will storage strategies need to be changed? The jury’s out, but the risk involved must be managed effectively as storage losses are the most expensive of all.
The weather continues to be highly unpredictable and pests and diseases are certainly all adapting and becoming more difficult to control. Managing these changes – while still being able to grow potatoes economically – will be a big focus going forward.
This, coupled with the loss of some product approvals, plus the changes to labels and the cost of maintaining the approvals we have left, makes all of our lives more complex. Unfortunately none of these changes ever make the crops easier or less expensive to grow.
We are all aware of the need to manage potato cyst nematode (PCN) in an integrated manner and not just rely on nematicides. Rotation length is one of the keys – moving from a four-year to an eight-year interval – has had a huge influence on PCN populations. However, this has not been easy for any grower to manage when accessing additional new and suitable potato land.
Resistant varieties, such as Eurostar and Arsenal, are doing a great job too and market acceptance of these newer varieties is increasing.
It is important all growers need to control potato volunteers, to allow the benefits of these lengthened crop rotation strategies to be fully realised.
Using crushers on the harvester and leaving the tubers near to the surface to allow any frost to break down the tubers are important, but spraying stubbles and cereal crops pre-harvest with glyphosate is one of the vital tools in the volunteer-control armoury.
Another change we’re having to cope with is new aggressive blight populations. James Hutton Institute has confirmed the newer blight strains are operating outside the old Smith Period parameters; it’s something we’ve all experienced, especially in 2012 and 2014, when the worst of the blight epidemic was very early in the season and some crops were infected as soon as they emerged.
Unfortunately, some of the newer blight materials have growth stage restriction placed on them stating when applications may start. This is designed to reduce the amount of active going onto bare soil to protect ground water, but won’t help blight control.
Change is as good as a rest they say, but these changes are not without their problems.