The Regen Journey


15 June 2023
Growers’ conference looks in depth at the environmental and economic challenges in potato production and the best ways to adapt to new practices.

REGENERATIVE growing was the focus at the R S Cockerill Growers Conference at Sandburn Hall, near York recently.

While planters would usually be back in the shed by May, Managing Director Rufus Pilgrim said there was plenty of interest and engagement in the subject.

“It’s firmly the direction of travel as we delve further into the environmental and economic challenges in potato production going forward. Livestock integration, cover cropping, min-til are all phrases amongst many that come to mind when the ‘regen’ word gets mentioned. We wanted to bust a few myths,” said Rufus.

“To the uninitiated the resource intensity of potatoes doesn’t easily lend itself to regenerative production, and that’s before you consider that many crops are grown on rented land. Many are already on the regenerative journey, but this was an opportunity to educate and support our grower base.

“We asked some of the country’s subject experts to define regenerative farming for us, and the steps they’d take to get us further down the road on our regenerative farming journey.”

The discussion initially revolved around the depleted sprout suppressant armoury. Geoff Hailstone of UPL reminded growers how to get the best from Maleic Hydrazide, which is still considered to be an important tool in storing processing potatoes.

Clive Wood from Kings Crops said cover crops are now “the poster child” for regenerative farming, stressing the importance of understanding exactly which soil-borne pests and diseases you are trying to target, then prescribing the “right catch” and cover crops to match the specific issue.

“Legislation and access to support is changing, and there is much that we can do for effective bio fumigation and soil improvement,” he said.

Soil guru Philip Wright from Wright Resolutions then went on to speak about his understanding of regenerative farming.

He highlighted some of the simple practices that could be implemented to reduce tillage, certainly on lighter soils like those in the Vale of York, combined with optimal cover crop management.

Phil discussed how reducing tillage intensity drives better aggregate stability, consequently building resilience across the rotation and allowing for faster recovery after potato crops.

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‘Still a place for potatoes’

It’s what happens in between potato crops that's crucial, Nuffield Scholar James Pick said in the final talk.

James shared findings from his study ‘Can maincrop potatoes be grown in a regenerative system?’. Increasing regularity of extreme weather events and static yields have led him to see what he could learn to mitigate this. He found that with careful rotational management, and mindful of inputs, the overall rotational balance can be redressed.

“There is a place for potatoes!” he said, to the relief of those present.


Supply chain co-operation

“Whatever your level of participation, the economics of potato production still come into play. To quote ‘You can’t go green if you’re in the red’. It will take cooperation and collaboration throughout the supply chain for sustainable potato production going forward,” Rufus said after those present had heard from all the speakers.

“Getting some sheep might not suit your situation. You don’t have to adopt all of these practices instantly to subscribe to the regenerative farming club.

“See what fits you and your existing systems, then adapt. It’s time to get on board for productivity improvement, building resilience against weather extremes, invasive pests and diseases, without it costing the earth.”

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