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Talking roots with Darryl Shailes: When to burn off the crop?

We have just got back from holiday and it has been a great break from what has been a very challenging season, one that is not over yet.

We went from the Waveney Valley in Norfolk, through the Vallee des Sept Chateaux (Valley of Seven Castles) in Luxembourg and ended up in the Otztal Valley in Austria where Otzi the iceman was discovered mummified in a glacier back in 1991.

 

The only trouble with being away is now the garden grass is very long – time to consider a couple of sheep I think – but to stop them getting into the neighbours’ gardens I think the hurdles will have to be so high that even Sally Gunnell in her prime would have struggled to get over them.

 

We stayed overnight in France on the way down and the full extent of the summer’s drought was a major feature on the morning news. A map of France showed the degree of the water issues there, with most of the country being in the red zone. A potato farmer and his agronomist were interviewed while digging a sample in nearly-dead crops, showing how poor the crop was.

 

The UK potato crop as we know is also badly affected and it has been a real struggle to decide when is the best time to burn off the crop. The decision about how long we dare leave crops to bulk but also to have set skins for lifting has been a challenge and its one I’m glad has not been left to me.

 

The need for set skins, especially with the amount of blackleg in crops, has been an important factor even though low yields have meant thoughts have drifted towards how long we dare leave them to bulk.

 


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Jelly end rot

 

Jelly end rot is also a potential issue with the re-absorption of starch from the stem end where the haulm has re-grown after the recent rains in some fields. Some crops, especially Markies that were severely droughted have even re-flowered. In these crops it’s now becoming an issue killing off the haulm fully, especially with the issue regarding using diquat in some fields that have become very dry again.

 

One very interesting photo I was sent was where a field was split treated with maleic hydrazide, showing how well it had controlled the re-growth and flowering of the haulm.

 

Beet has also been affected by this starch re-absorption, which has shown itself as a reduction in the sugar content of roots after the rain came and the leaves grew as the crops greened up. The sugars are now increasing again and hopefully another spell of warm sunny weather will enable the crops to make up some of their lost potential.

 

Again the decision as to when to lift some fields will be a challenge. Some of the fields will be very hard and roots can be broken, so careful harvesting will be a must. Also, which fields can best make up some yield loss will also be a difficult choice. It’s always the best fields that have the potential to make up yield. The poorer crops are not the best to be left in the ground and lifting them and getting the next crop established will be the best decision.

 

Also, frost risk can be higher in poorer crops if the crowns are not adequately protected by green leaves.

 

But let’s hope frost and snow are still some way away, although that’s not the wish of some of the farmers in the Otztal valley who’ve diversified and turned what was their traditional summer grazing into ski resorts.

 

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