Water run-off was a key focus at the event staged in Suffolk recently
The Potato Council’s East of England Potato Day got underway in early September at Frederick Hiam Ltd’s Tuddenham base, near Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk. Dominic Kilburn reports on storage, water run-off and PCN resistance issues. As many as one third of all potato stores checked by the Potato Council’s StoreCheck initiative to date have shown to be sub-standard when it comes to their energy efficiency. And, while two thirds were found to be in a good condition, the Potato Council is urging growers to take a good look at what condition their stores are in and get help and advice where needed.That’s according to the Potato Council’s Steve Saunders who said that 45 stores had been checked this season under the voluntary scheme, which was first reported in Farmers Guide following the BP 2013 event in Harrogate last November, but officially got underway in April this year.”We are finding that relatively minor imperfections such as door seals and random holes are causing much of the problem in terms of air leakage from the stores, but we are also able to advise growers on more serious problems to do with the building that we identify, and which will inevitably cost more money to put right.”Steve added that there was a huge variation in the range of energy efficiency between different stores but the StoreCheck, while costing growers anything between 440-640 per store (depending on store size), worked out at less than 50p/t, and sometimes below 20p/t.”StoreCheck offers an opportunity, for a one-off fee, for growers to have their store appraised by specialists using a standardised process of measuring air leakage per hour which has been specially developed for this nationwide assessment service,” Steve explained.The StoreCheck, which takes about half a day to complete, includes a comprehensive on-site assessment of the store, a written report and, where appropriate, recommendations for improvement to enhance store performance and potentially save growers money.”As well as individual growers getting involved, some of the larger processors are also engaging in the scheme and we are hopeful that, if they benefit from it initially, they will roll it out across their supply chains,” concluded Steve.Reducing water run-offNovel and cost-effective cultivation methods at planting can reduce shallow compaction, water run-off, erosion and diffuse pollution from potato crops, significantly, according to the latest results from Defra-funded ADAS research.Speaking at the Potato Council’s East of England Potato Day, ADAS principal research scientist, Dr Ken Smith (right) summarised results from Defra’s MOPS2 (Mitigation Options for Phosphorus & Sediment) project, led by his ADAS colleague Dr Martyn Silgram, which focused on practical methods to reduce water run-off and the associated diffuse pollution risk from potato crops.Initial trials had compared water run-off on over-wintered fields ahead of going into potatoes the following spring. Summary results from winter 2009/10 compared run-off following cereal harvest on stubble, stubble tramlines, cultivated stubble and cover crop plots, on a 5-degree sloping field, and demonstrated that a cover crop was the most effective way to reduce run-off over winter; the stubble tramline was shown to be the greatest source of water run-off.”When it came to measuring phosphorus and sediment loss, again, the cover crop treatment showed a greater reduction in losses compared with the other three treatments,” said Dr Smith.Phase 2 of the project (in 2010) initially compared total water run-off loss (from rainfall and irrigation) from different rows within potato crops, including trafficked and un-trafficked rows with, and without, stones (from de-stoning), as well as loosening by shallow vertical tine beneath an un-trafficked stone row. Results concluded that up to 17 per cent of irrigation and rainfall water was lost via runoff from the trafficked rows with stones, whereas water loss was reduced to 1 per cent or less, in rows with no stones and those with stones and a tined pass.In 2011 and 2012, stone row treatments including novel cultivation methods were also compared: an angled tine/Creyke roller combination, a tied ridger and Great Plains’ rotary harrow – all post-planting.”Compared with a stone row as the control, the results suggest that all these approaches can be practical and cost-effective methods for growers to help reduce the problem of compaction, run-off, erosion and diffuse pollution. The Creyke roller and leading tines and Great Plains rotary spiked harrow proved particularly successful with very encouraging results,” he explained.
Options such as (left to right) vertical tines, an angled tine/Creyke roller combination, a tied ridger and Great Plains’ rotary harrow (not pictured) provide practical and cost-effective methods for potato growers to help reduce the problem of compaction, run-off, erosion and diffuse pollution.
“The tied ridger performed very well on a silty clay loam site in 2012 but appeared to have limited effectiveness on light soils; a shallow vertical tine beneath the stone rows can be effective but care is needed to avoid ripping up the stones,” he said.Dr Smith added that no actual benefit in crop yield or quality had been recorded in the trials, although some benefit might be expected in a dry season, with crops under drought stress; the novel mitigation treatments appeared to be associated with an improved crop canopy compared with the control on the silty clay loam site in 2012.PCN resistanceKWS’ Eurostar looks set to become established as a key potato variety in the UK on the basis of its good yields and suitability for French fries production. However its resistance and, importantly, tolerance to potato cyst nematode (PCN) is also driving widespread interest in the variety.Talking at the event, KWS sales manager Dr Bill Lankford said that while most breeders will have resistance to PCN within their breeding programmes, which helps to reduce the overall burden of PCN in soils, these varieties may yield poorly in infested fields. “This isn’t the case with Eurostar,” commented Bill. “Our plot trials in the absence of nematicides have shown yields of between 48-58t/ha for the past two seasons when Eurostar is grown in soils featuring a variety of nematode population levels.”In independent trials in 2013, he pointed out that several KWS varieties, as well as a novel coded variety, showed either no decrease, or a small increase in yield when grown with a nematicide, demonstrating good tolerance to PCN. Eurostar achieved the highest untreated yield demonstrating the highest level of tolerance to PCN G. pallida, in the trial.”We’ve identified genetic markers so we can screen programmes at a much earlier stage to identify if we can bring traits through, as we have done recently with Camel, a red table variety which has PCN resistance and tolerance like Eurostar.”In the past, you might have to wait several years but now we can look at the early stage of the programme and accelerate introductions,” he said.Bill suggested that despite the success of a variety like Eurostar in terms of its PCN resistance and tolerance, it was key that growers still used nematicides as part of their potato production management. “We simply don’t know how different races of PCN may evolve and effect resistant varieties and so it’s important that growers continue to use nematicides. These varieties are, however, a very useful tool to manage populations of PCN,” he added.