Results from trials held at the Elveden Farm Estate, Suffolk were revealed in early January as growers and agronomists gathered at Newmarket Racecourse for SPot farm East Results Day.
“Following a successful second year, Andrew Francis, Farm Manager, said: “We became host of SPot farm East in a quest for knowledge, and we continue to learn. We have several challenges that face our business and those similar to ours. In particular soils that find it difficult to hold moisture and nutrition, characteristics fundamental to potato production.’’
Addressing the audience Andrew said; ‘‘the work carried out here isn’t my trials, they are our trials – done for the industry.”
Findings from trials on subjects including herbicides, nitrogen and Irrigation, manipulation of tuber numbers and tests on soil sedimentation and the associated loss of nutrients via run off provided the programme for the day.
Ed Bramham Jones from the Norfolk Rivers Trust and Joanna Niziolomski from Cranfield University researched methods of retaining soil and water in the field at Elveden using specialist machinery. A partnership was formed between a large range of organisations to sponsor the work, which investigates ways to mitigate against diffuse pollution when growing a potato crop.
Evaluating the research, Joanna explained: “Our aim was to reduce runoff of sediments and nutrients, with the confidence to find an in-field solution, which benefits the environment without a negative impact on cropping.
“We used six different treatments: two trafficked treatments, a controlled treatment and three different types of machinery, including a wonder wheel, creyeke wheel track roller and a tied ridger under both boom and rain gun irrigation. Our results showed that trafficked treatments significantly increased run-off volume, total soil loss and total oxidised nitrogen, and boom treatments significantly increased total soil loss, sediment concentration and total oxidised nitrogen. Applying the wonder wheel post-trafficking (the only machine tested in this condition) significantly decreased run-off volume, total soil loss and sediment concentration as compared to the trafficked treatment in the conditions at Elveden.
“Perhaps more notably, there was no significant difference in yield or quality between treatments.”
With the loss of linuron, which will be enforced in June this year, growers’ access to effective residual herbicides is becoming increasingly limited. The herbicide demonstration carried out at SPot East explored alternative residual herbicide strategies. This demonstration researched the performance of 12 alternative residual herbicide combinations compared to a standard ‘linuron based programme.
Graham Tomalin, Senior Agronomist for VCS Potatoes Ltd, said: “We’ve looked at 23 varieties in total and 12 different residual options applied prior to emergence, with a second trial post emergence of the crop investigating different contact herbicides to help us decide where we will go post-June.
“It is a changing landscape, with control measures at risk – but we are learning more about our new options. Most interestingly, we found that six of the ‘post-linuron’ treatments produced commercially acceptable results”
Water and nitrogen use
As water becomes an increasingly scarce and costly resource, the SPot Farm East common scab demonstration, run by NIAB CUF, considered the minimum water required by different varieties, to control common scab.
Dr Mark Stalham, Senior Research Associate at NIAB CUF explored different potato varieties and their susceptibility to the common scab pathogen.
Dr Stalham, said: “Very simply, we are trying to tease out the differences in varieties and their sensitivity to common scab. Past research has found Maris Piper to be the most sensitive variety, while Vales Sovereign is one of the least sensitive, which was confirmed during the trial. However, this trial allowed us to fine-tune what we know about the sensitivity of many varieties previously described as ‘intermediate’, allowing us to improve water management for them.
Another demonstration conducted by NIAB CUF examined how efficiently potato plants absorbed nitrogen on sandy soils.