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Dormancy break puts potato seed stocks at risk on UK farms

Some potato seed stocks arriving on farms have already broken dormancy due to the mild spring weather hampering storage conditions.

This could lead to problems managing excessive chit length and pre-sprouting if the mild weather remains and no refrigeration is available says Darryl Shailes, agronomist, Hutchinsons.

 

“Once you are happy and have accepted the seed, box it up and get air through it in a very similar way to storing ware-crop and cool if possible to reduce the chitting,” Mr Shailes advises.


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“At our Ely trial site last year we planted seed stocks ageing them differently and de-chitting some of the seed on purpose. The de-chitted seed was a long way behind the rest of the plots in terms of canopy development and was even behind seed that came straight out of the cold store. It’s common knowledge that knocking chits off accidently at planting can cause a large variation in emergence and canopy development as well as transmitting blackleg, but to actually see it and show the huge lag in ground cover was an eye opener for us all. So, managing chits whether intended or not, will be very important this spring.”

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Adrian Cunnington, head of crop storage research, AHDB says he is not surprised that dormancy is breaking because the hot conditions experienced last year will have advanced many crops.

 

“That is always the danger when we get unseasonably warm weather – you will get some movement and if growers have not got temperature control then the only thing they can do is to make sure that they have got those sprouts to be as robust as possible when the crop goes into the ground to try to offset the impact of any damage going through the planter.

“That means probably putting them outside prior to planting. If they green the chits up, then they will harden to a certain extent. At the moment the weather is not warm enough at night, but they may be able to if we get some frost-free periods.”

 

Prices

 

The dry summer experienced in 2018 has also led to potato seeds being smaller in size and consequently lower yielding according to Mr Shailes, meaning a higher percentage need to be used for this year’s crop. Such low yields have led to significant price increases of seed in some situations further adding to the growing costs of producing potatoes this year.

Top tips for storing seed

  • Inspect newly-arrived seed within 48 hours
  • Look for rots, moisture, smell and signs of chitting which may indicate less than ideal storage or transport conditions
  • Be especially alert with small seed stock - moisture around the eyes can help transmit blackleg and the lack of air spaces in bags of small seed may allow moisture to build quicker than normal
  • Once you have accepted the seed, box it up and get air through it
  • If possible, cool to reduce chitting
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