The seed exporter’s tale

Talking to Scottish seed suppliers about revisions to the classification scheme for our July/August edition set SALLY SMITH thinking about the challenges of trading in exotic and at times unpredictable markets. Most weeks of the year someone from Scotland’s seed potato industry will be doing business in a far-flung country somewhere in the world.

The potato land is 2000 metres up on the side of a volcano. Sandy McGowan has climbed precipitous slopes to get there because that’s where the Indonesians grow potatoes.  ‘The soil is rich and fertile, the climate temperate, and the crops impressive,’ he explains, conceding though that the fields are necessarily small and husbandry almost entirely hand labour; as a result numerous growers are required, over 2000 to supply just one crisping plant, for example.

All a very far cry from the Cambridgeshire Fens where he was meeting growers the following week, or the banks of the Nile where he had gone a few months earlier.

Along with all his competitors in the Scottish seed industry, Grampian Growers’ general manager is in no doubt that marketing has to be a personal business, despite the existence of Skype and the internet. ‘You’ve got to be there, meeting the farmers, seeing the growing conditions, assessing the crop – even if that means climbing a volcano.

‘Farmers speak much the same language wherever they are in the world.  To get anywhere with marketing, at some stage you have to be in the field with them. The same personal contact is vital for the importers and agents, indeed all involved. But I’m not denying that for me the travelling is fantastic and because you are going to a country’s agricultural area you see the parts the tourist never sees.’

He accepts that overseas travel is not without risk at times. ‘ You can’t be blasé but I have never felt threatened, not even five months after the Arab Spring erupted. The atmosphere was slightly more tense but my customers carried on as usual, and so did I.’

Read the full story in our Sept/Oct edition

Careful planning improves soil fertility

Pigs tend to follow potatoes in the rotation at Wantisden Hall Farms in Suffolk because they play an important role in building organic matter and controlling volunteers, manager Tim Pratt told HEATHER BRIGGS when she visited the innovative LEAF demonstration farm.

Situated less than 10 miles from the coast near Woodbridge, Wantisden Hall Farms has predominantly sandy soils with poor organic matter so putting nutrients back is a priority. For this reason Tim Pratt took the decision to rent land to an outdoor pig-farmer. ‘Crops such as potatoes and onions can be hard on the ground, so a carefully planned rotation with other less demanding crops such as rye, interspersed with vegetables, helps maintain healthy soils,’ he says.

‘I started thinking about the benefits from having pigs in the rotation thanks to meeting with LEAF livestock farmers, adapting their system so it would work here on the farm. Pigs usually spend two years in each field and although when the weather is wet it can look a bit of a muddy mess, we are seeing real improvements in soil organic matter.’

The farm also faces challenges from PCN, with soil sample analyses showing both Globodera pallida and G. rostochiensis to contend with. Controlling volunteers, which can exacerbate this problem, is therefore crucial to the farm and the pigs make short work of them. Attention to detail can make all the difference to success; often volunteers growing by fence posts can be just out of reach for the pigs, so the fence is moved by about a metre every so often to ensure that they can access and eat them.

Apart from the pigs, 200 Dorset ewes make the most of crop residues and grassland introduced within the HLS agreement; they are also used to graze off spring greens. Other measures used to keep soils healthy include cover crops, with black oats and vetch planted in mid-July.

Water is of increasing concern. Wantisden Hall has a spring-fed reservoir which is one of the first to be restricted when levels are low. ‘The Environment Agency should look at individual cases rather than taking the broad-brush approach,’ says Mr Pratt who has obtained permission to collect run-off from a disused airfield nearby. ‘This works really well in a wet winter,’ he notes. Before use, the water is subjected to tests for E. Coli and Salmonella and all the farm’s water supplies are checked monthly to ensure that they are within accepted limits.

Read the full story in our Sept/Oct edition

Major milestone for popular harvester

Mark Green’s new harvester has been tackling some challenging and varied soils near Hereford. He has run Grimme machines at Ditton Farm, St Owens Cross, for as long as he can remember, starting with a GZ to which he retrofitted the first twin MultiSep cleaning module.

Ditton Farm’s Grimme fleet now includes three triple bed tillers, two trailed GT harvesters and a self-propelled Varitron 270 bunker machine. The latest addition just happens to be the 2000th GT170 to come off the production line at Damme near Osnabrück in the north-west German state of Lower Saxony.

  1. M., J. M. and M. F. Green and Sons grows in excess of 15000 tonnes of potatoes for crisping and chipping. Around 50% of the crop is moved straight off the field and the other half goes into controlled temperature storage. Average yield on the medium light loam soils is around 16–18 tonnes/acre (around 40 tonnes/hectare). The total acreage has been reduced recently because of the need to travel further away from the farm to find good quality land.

Planting starts in mid-March and is normally finished by the middle of May. Lifting gets underway at the beginning of July and ends in the middle of October.

‘We bought our first self-propelled Varitron in 2012 through local dealer Len Evans to assist our existing GT harvester in the field during the severe wet weather conditions at the time,’ recalls Mr Green. ‘It’s a great insurance against wet weather, and although the GT with wheel drive means we can still harvest in all but the very worst weather conditions, it’s our 14 tonne Bailey trailers running alongside that become the problem in the wet.’

The new GT170 was bought this year as the farm’s principal harvester. ‘Self-propelled machines are not cheap to run and whilst our strategy at the time of purchasing ours was to use it as the main harvester, our preference going forward is to use it to support the trailed GT when we are under delivery pressure or for back-up in challenging lifting conditions,’ he explains.

‘We are trying to reduce running costs so we think it’s the right approach to keep the self-propelled as back up and for when it’s really wet,’ says Mr Green. ‘It’s basically a role reversal. We used to run it with two drivers on 10-hour shifts, but the GT is proven technology and is reliable so we think this approach will keep costs under control.

The new GT170 has a short digging web followed by a main web with hydraulically adjusted speed and agitation providing infinite control. This is ideal for lifting in challenging conditions. Mr Green says the haulm rollers that work in combination with a twin MultiSep do an excellent job of gently clearing out vegetation, stones and clods, without causing bruising and scuffing.

‘The quality of the crop depends largely on how it is presented to the harvester,’ he explains. ‘The short digging web is so efficient that it takes the stress off the main web and this ultimately leads to less damage, better cleaning and higher output. The forward speed of the GT is much higher than other trailed harvesters, which is such a key factor when delivering to order.’

Read the full story in our Sept/Oct edition

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