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Perfecting Potatoes Together – New initiative for UK growers

BASF launches ambitious new initiative on the company’s Real Results Virtual Farm. Its vision is to help UK growers unlock the potential – and the profits – in their potato crop.

‘Perfecting Potatoes Together’, a new initiative provides a platform on which the potato industry can come together to share experience, know-how and passion for developing and perfecting healthy potato crops.

“It’s undoubtedly been a tough year with the loss of more active ingredients, the pandemic and more extreme weather events,” notes Matthew Goodson, BASF marketing manager for specialities. “The combined effect is a very challenging environment in which to produce a profitable potato crop. We want to work together with growers and other industry experts, to help develop solutions that overcome these challenges. But to make this happen we need the support of growers and we’re asking them to join the community.”

For Hugh Black, a potato grower based on Backboath Farm in Angus, Scotland these challenges are all too real. “Climate change is certainly having an impact here. Now, for example, in the second week of April I should be out planting potatoes but it is too cold.  Soil temperatures should be somewhere between 6 and 8C but they are currently 1.5C – 4C and it’s very detrimental to crop establishment.”

Solanum sisymbriifolium, also known as ‘prickly potato‘, being used as a trap crop for PCN control by The Jersey Royal Company.

Despite being nearly 700 miles away, Mike Renouard, business unit manager for The Jersey Royal Company, is witnessing similar changes. “Climate change affects us most years now. We are seeing much longer spells of continuous weather – either wet or dry.  We start planting potatoes mid-winter and the last two have been among the wettest on record.  The island is wholly reliant on surface water, so later in the season, big rainfall events hamper the application of crop protection products.  We just can’t risk them getting into drinking water supplies.

“Extended dry spells are difficult too.  We’ve tiny field sizes and can only irrigate 30-40% of our area at any one time.  Even that involves laying pipes across roads and other people’s properties.”

Hugh is growing 14 varieties of potatoes across 85ha of his 1,000ha farm and with 45% of his crop grown for seed, pests and diseases are a real threat to his business.

“We’re trying our best to economically spread the risk from PCN.  Currently we’re on a seven year rotation, though my target is ten. We’re also growing processing varieties, not because they are profitable, but because they help clean the soil.”

In Jersey, Mike widely deploys biological controls.  “We’ve lost pretty much all the nematicides now so managing PCN is a challenge.  Some fields have been in continual production for the last 100 years and we’re dealing with some relatively high populations. Our early crops help break the cycle on the early land and on the later land, we’re using caliente mustard as a break crop after the potatoes. We are also growing solanum sisymbriifolium, which is also known as ‘prickly potato‘, as a trap crop and testing new biocontrols which are yet to come to market.”

It is this sort of discussion, exchange of experiences and ideas which underpin the new initiative. It’s designed to strengthen understanding between BASF and growers and to improve the breadth and depth of knowledge transfer.

For BASF that means better understanding the challenges growers’ face at a both farm and field level in the short and longer term. For farmers in BASF’s ‘Real Results Circle’, it’s an opportunity to tap into the company’s R&D, have greater access to its wider network of independent experts, and get insights into optimising crop and product performance. They will be among the first to trial the new products and assess in-field efficacy and help shape the future of BASF’s product and service offering.

Matthew Goodson, BASF marketing manager for specialities

“We’ve a really exciting pipeline for the potato sector with three new fungicides targeting late blight, alteraria and tuber disease, two new herbicides effective against grassweeds and tricky broadleaved weeds respectively, and two new insecticides – an aphicide and a biological wireworm control – all coming to market in the next five years,” explains Matthew.

“While our products go through rigorous testing during the development and approvals processes, it’s not until you get them on-farm using real sprayers etc that you uncover the nuances of optimising efficacy.”

To join the Real Results Circle, head to: https://www.agricentre.basf.co.uk/en/Real-Results-Circle/Potatoes/Perfecting-Potatoes/

The next webinar, ‘What does the future hold for blight crop protection?‘ with SRUC’s crop pathologist Dr Ruairidh Bain, The Hutton Institute’s research leader Dr Dave Cooke and BASF‘s Paul Goddard will be examining the challenges of controlling blight and the changing dynamics of the pathogen population. It will take place on the Virtual Farm at 8am on 29th April 2021.

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