SPot farm planting underway at last

Lincolnshire-based R. J. & A. E Godfrey is the latest farming business to sign up to AHDB’s Strategic Potato Farm demonstration programme which is now into its third season.

Somerby Top Farm comprises 600 hectares of Grade 1 sandy loams and a 6000-tonne potato store situated on the northern edge of the wolds near Brigg. Somerby is just a few miles from the Godfrey’s 890-ha holding and main office at Elsham Top near the southern approaches to the Humber Bridge; the SPot Farm site itself is close to the end of the runway at East Midlands Airport.

Alex and Sam Godfrey also grow 60 hectares of potatoes on the silts at Dawsmere in the south of the county and when Potato Review caught up with farm manager Will Gagg at Somerby in mid April he had only just got back from Holbeach Marsh where he had been putting a four-row planter to work. The siltland operation should have got going before the end of March but everything there was running three weeks late. It was much the same story at Somerby where planting began in the second week of April, a full 20 days behind target.

Mr Gagg was hoping to make up at least part of the delay using a brand new belt planter which was being put through its paces on land adjacent to the SPot demonstration field. The Grimme GB430, which replaces a two-row machine and an older four-row cup planter, was bought this season to help speed up work rates at Somerby and Elsham; given such a slow start the timing of its delivery could hardly have been better.

Will Gagg is a true potato enthusiast and he is keen to find out if the SPot Farm programme can help move the industry forward, promoting profitability as well as protecting fresh consumption. He wants the exercise to concentrate on improving quality and marketable yields though he accepts that any gains will be achieved by translating small improvements in management practices into better margins on a crop which is becoming increasingly expensive to grow.

Don’t overlook blight resistance management

In the third article of a series sponsored by Bayer aimed at helping potato growers get the best possible returns from their crops, Scottish Agronomy’s Greg Dawson was asked for his advice on blight fungicide programmes.

Discussions on potato blight so far this year have tended to focus on two developments, says Greg Dawson, the first being the emergence of 37_A2 (often referred to as Dark Green 37), a relatively new strain of late blight (Phytophthora infestans), showing reduced sensitivity to the widely used fungicide fluazinam. Its exact prevalence across the UK is unknown but Mr Dawson says there is reason to believe it may be more widespread than the confirmed instances reported in 2017 suggest. It was reported on a blighted tuber submitted from Norfolk despite not being detected in any foliar blight samples tested from the county.

The general advice to growers and advisers has been that this should be considered when devising programmes. A ‘not found in a region’ report should be interpreted as insufficient information to confirm the absence of 37_A2.

A second point of discussion has been the introduction of a new fungicide, Zorvec Enicade (oxathiapiprolin), which is reported as delivering strong protection, but Mr Dawson says there is a third point that warrants equal, if not greater, attention. He wants growers to think carefully about resistance management.

The new season has barely begun but Greg Dawson thinks blight pressure is likely to be high as a result of later plantings and rapid crop develolpment as a consequence of a sudden surge in temperatures. Protection will be needed from the outset, he warns. ‘Potatoes are at their most susceptible from emergence up until they reach 10 leaves, because of the amount of new material emerging that is unprotected,’ he explains. ‘At the early stage of canopy development, strategies should reflect the risk posed by seed-borne blight and where the risk is thought to be high, the first two applications should be of products or mixtures with curative and zoospore activity, such as Ranman Top (cyazofamid) + C50 (cymoxanil).’

Where this is a lesser concern, the first spray is likely to be mancozeb or Curzate M (cymoxanil + mancozeb) but, as he points out, this offers only five days of protectant activity. ‘Growers are familiar with short intervals at this stage but will need to think carefully about sprays two, three and four. I would opt for Revus (mandipropamid) and Ranman Top in rotation because they bind strongly with the leaf wax, but there is also the choice of Valbon (benthiavalicarb + mancozeb), Zorvec Enicade or Consento (fenamidone + propamocarb). Valbon and Revus, however, should not be used consecutively as both feature the same mode of action.’

Second generation separator

The CTM Rockstar 2 soil separator, which was launched at BP2017 in Harrogate last November, has been given a number of modifications designed to improve sieving performance and speed up the cultivation process.

Karl Arndt, sales manager at Root Crop Systems, Harpley near King’s Lynn, Norfolk, claims that operators should see a reduction in running costs due, at least in part, to a new web design which helps to ensure the free flow of soil. The first of the company’s five-web machines was working near Attleborough in Norfolk.

‘On certain land types it’s the drops and the cascading of soil from one web to the next where you get the separation and on light land on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, for example, that’s ideal,’ Mr Arndt explains. ‘Because the webs are moving the soil all the time you don’t have to use power-driven scrubbers to try and push material through.

‘You could get similar results with fewer webs but the machine probably wouldn’t be as quick,’ he adds. ‘We already offered a four-web machine but we just felt that there was room for improvement and the five-web Rockstar has definitely outperformed our previous model, there’s no doubt about that.

‘It’s also a longer machine because we have used a different chassis, but there’s another reason for that. Because it is a modular build growers are going to be able to take out a web and put stars in its place which will produce a more versatile machine when they are moving to heavier land. It won’t be a five minute job but it could probably be done in half a day, or a bit quicker once you’ve done it before. We’ve been asked by several customers if we could provide that option.’

Karl Arndt is hoping that upgraded electronics and a more user-friendly HMI system will be an additional selling point.

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