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Talking Roots with Darryl Shailes: The effects of January

Having just come through the wettest January on record for the last 250 years, we need to consider what effect this may have on our early season planning.

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Soil compaction is a key concern, as even in 2013, a much drier winter, there were still some cases of compaction from working the soils when they were too wet, resulting in poor canopy development and low yielding crops. A spade/fork, or even better a penetrometer, quickly identified these suspect areas of the fields, which otherwise could have been blamed on other things such as PCN.

 

Working soils when they are fragile and still in a ‘plasticine’ state is very damaging as has recently been demonstrated in the work carried out by Cambridge University Farms (CUF) on behalf of the Potato Council.

 

So is there anything we can do constructively to help manage the situation?

 

The starting point could be accurately identifying those fields which have less clay and silt content and a higher proportion of sand that could potentially be worked earlier.

 

Many will be considering subsoiling to help drain the soil, however this practice needs careful management and may take more than one pass, but where successful can act as a type of mole drain and help the soil dry out.

 

Using GPS/RTK guidance systems on the tractor can help confine the wheelings to areas where beds are not planned, meaning compaction is limited to these areas avoiding any issues with root penetration at a later date.

 

When we start to think about stone and clod separation, ensure the machines are set accurately and again not working too deep into ‘plasticine’ soil. Recent work again sponsored by PCL and conducted by CUF has demonstrated that reduced working depths of stone and clod separation machinery does not have a negative effect on yields or crop quality but can greatly improve the way soil is managed.

 

The wet harvest and mild winter will mean there is a higher than normal chance for rots coming in on seed. Many varieties are susceptible to rots of various descriptions, especially blackleg, so we need to be very vigilant.

Microclimate

Removing seed from the big tonne bags which create a perfect microclimate for disease and rot development and boxing them up can help greatly. Blowing air through them to dry everything out and cold storing until nearer planting or chitting will help to alleviate any problems.

 

Most of the soil sampling will have been done for PCN and, with more and more growers opting for using GPS and having maps made, we have a better handle on PCN infestation levels than ever before.

 

It is good news more varieties are coming through with G.pallida resistance, such as Arsenal and Performer from Agrico, Eurostar from KWS and Innovator from HZPC. These new varieties can help greatly in an integrated control strategy.

 

This information, combined with the PCN tolerance work carried out by Dr John Keer at Richard Austin Associates and sponsored by PCL, can enable us to make much better decisions about when and when not to use some sort of pesticide for PCN control

 

With more and more pressures coming on the nematicides we have available, we must ensure all stewardship measures for their continued uses are strictly followed. Without these granules and soil sterilants potato production on many fields would be impossible.

 

  • Darryl Shailes is root crop technical manager for Hutchinsons, with a nationwide remit. He has been working in potato agronomy for more than 20 years
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