Well it happened – it stopped raining and we have managed to move house. We have a great view and it will be enhanced shortly when the local farmer starts grazing the marshes with his cattle. The house move was not without its glitches and a few false dawns, a bit like the weather with the mini-Beast from the East delaying the onset of spring once again.
However, since the official start of spring on March 20 – the same day we moved in – the weather has been more settled and land work has begun in earnest.
British Summer Time began on March 25 when the clocks changed and the days lengthened. It was just as well, as we will need all the daylight possible from a land-work and field-walking point of view with the condensed season we look as if we’re heading in to.
We have done most of the planning for the season’s crop – from both the grower and agronomist’s point of view – we have now got to crack on, implement the plans and adjust them where required.
It is worth a thought as to what we are trying to achieve with all our planning. I believe the simple principle we are trying to do is to maintain the yield and quality potential of the crop and mitigate the risk of this potential being reduced. We start off with 100% and our aim should be to maintain this yield and quality potential as close to the maximum as we possibly can.
Crop protection issues for potato pests such as potato cyst nematode (PCN) and free living nematode (FLN) can all be managed to a greater or lesser extent. The management of PCN is now so much more integrated than it ever has been. The newer Pallida-resistant varieties are doing a fantastic job in reducing numbers in fields and our recent Fen trials demonstrated this. The tolerance of some of these resistant varieties is also getting much more robust. This, combined with accurate mapping of populations and extending rotations, has put us in a much better place than we were just a few years ago. We have new material coming to further enhance what tools we have against this huge risk to growing potatoes.
FLNs are also a risk in some soil types and we have more knowledge about Spraing, with various different methods and tests available to us to mitigate against the threat. As with any pest which has the ability to move – even if it is just localised within the soil profile – our tests are not 100%, but they all help in risk management.
We have the new Hutton Criteria for blight infection, which took over from the Smith Period last season. This helps us greatly to manage the risk of blight and having more knowledge about the weather conditions which cause infection can enhance our ability to control this ever changing threat to potato profitability.
But there is an old saying, ‘If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it’. How can we manage something which we cannot measure and we do not know where it will turn up next until it is there? That is where I think we are with blight strain dark green 37_A2 and the use of fluazinam for blight control in potatoes this coming season.
It reared its head in Shropshire in 2016 and because we could not measure it we could not manage it and it turned up and damaged crops in-store. In 2017 it was more widespread, especially so in the blight trials at Eurofins, and we again could not measure it and we could not manage it where we relied on fluazinam for control. It has since turned up in Kent, Yorkshire and Suffolk and in seed. We need to be able to measure it prior to it becoming a problem if we are to control dark green 37_A2.
So, should fluazinam continue to be part of that risk management, just because it is relatively cheap and it is what we have always done? I will leave you to decide.