Poor harvest proving a hot potato

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Potato farmers could save significant costs by planting ‘green manure’ cover crops over the winter, according to ADAS, the former government agronomy consultancy.

Its findings will be presented at the ADAS/Syngenta Progressive Potato Farming Conference and Exhibition at Newark on November 22.

Advance publicity says: “Growers could save up to £20/ha in nitrogen from nutrients released back into the soil by green manures, with a further £40/ha worth of N contributing to soil organic matter over the medium term.

“The conference presentation will also highlight evidence of soil nutrient loss this year through leaching during the incredibly wet spring. Techniques being developed will help growers conserve nutrients, and cope with the extremes of weather that are becoming more commonplace.

“ADAS research has also identified ways to conserve water loss from potato fields in a more typical season. During 2011, run-off losses totalling up to 18 per cent of rainfall or costly irrigation were observed down stone rows in potato crops. Novel management techniques successfully reduced these losses to just one per cent.”

For conference details, see http://potato.adas.co.uk/

Also coming up is the Potato Council’s Seed Industry Event, at Crieff Hydro, near Perth, November 20.

The council’s head of seed and export, Rob Burns, said this week: “This season has been a particularly challenging one but early indications are that there should be sufficient GB-grown seed to satisfy requirements.”

See www.confevents.net/

n The NFU has called on potato buyers for tolerance in the enforcement of supply contracts, following an expensive growing season and a poor harvest. Most English growers are on contracts for fixed amounts at fixed prices and would normally be expected to make up any shortfall by buying potatoes in.

But because of short harvests all round, market prices are unprecedented for the time of year.

NFU potato forum chairman Tim Papworth said: “I have already heard of some buyers taking a pragmatic approach because they recognise that the shortages have largely been out of the growers’ control. I would encourage growers to talk to their customers and reach a sensible agreement.

“I can’t remember a year quite like this. I hope all parties can come to a commonsense solution.”

Problems are still piling up for growers, with sticky conditions slowing the harvest, and Potato Council chairman Allan Stevenson has written an open letter to the industry, calling for understanding.