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Talking Roots with Darryl Shailes: Well sown is half grown


A few days of nice drying weather has brought all sorts of activity. Land is being pulled down, de-stoners are going up and down fields and potatoes are going in the ground.

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It is easy to get carried away in the melee of activity, but it is getting the planting right which can set the crop up, or not, for the rest of the season.


With ever increasing pressures on margins and prices it is now more important than ever to make sure the odd, poorly performing fields which reduce the overall profitability of the business are not allowed to do so again.


I believeit’s no coincidence the last fields planted are often the best and it’s easy to say wait until conditions are perfect. But where growers are managing increasingly large areas it’s difficult to be patient and hold off when so much has to be achieved in a narrow window.


Soil type variation across the farm and even a field can have a huge impact on successful crop establishment. If the soil gets smeared or compacted during the pre-planting cultivations it has a huge impact on root and subsequent canopy development. Yield reductions in the region of 25-30% are not uncommon if compaction limits the crop’s ability to take up the nutrients and water it needs to make and maintain a full canopy. The canopy’s ability to capture all

the radiation it can is the main driver of yield and anything which impedes this (and poor soil structure is one of the worst) reduces yield considerably.


Another area for particular attention this season is nematicides and their use – coming about as a result of the changes in terms of approvals, formulation and availability. Attention to detail is key in all these areas, for example, ensuring all the cartridges for the application machines are correct, can avoid costly errors occurring.


All the granules have different flow rates, so using the wrong cartridge for the wrong granule can have a big effect on getting the right dose in the right place. Due to product availability issues, swapping nematicide products around on-farm may have to be commonplace this season, so such mistakes could easily occur.


All the manufactures agree on the depth of incorporation, and wherever possible treatments ideally should go on just prior to planting.


Syngenta has come up with a simple rice test to give a guide to the incorporation depth of Nemathorin (fosthiazate) and it’s a useful visual aid to see what effect different rotor and forward speeds have on the depth of incorporation. I know several growers who’ve looked at this and it’s surprised them with what they’ve found.


Chitted seed also needs special consideration. Ideally the chits should be stubby and green and strong. Then they can be planted with little damage and help in early canopy development. But this isn’t always the case, especially if the chitting house isn’t well controlled or the weather breaks and planting is delayed. Also different varieties chit at different speeds, so it’s important to ensure everything is kept under control.


We’ve all seen planter hoppers full of long, white chits after the seed had gone in the ground. There was some trial work done a few years ago where tubers were planted chitted with chits still on, chitted with chits removed and un-chitted. Not surprisingly the chitted seed with chits intact did the best in terms of speed of emergence and canopy development, but what might surprise some was the chitted crop with chits removed was the worst, slower even than the un-chitted seed.


Also knocking off chits can spread any bacterial infection in the odd seed tuber causing more widespread problems in the field. Belt planters can help, but the main thing is to manage the chits effectively first.


So there are just a few things to consider over the next few manic weeks. ‘Well sown is half grown’ they say and it’s never truer than when growing potatoes.


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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