The West Midlands Potato Day attracted a good crowd of industry visitors on 19 June when potato grower Jonathan Bubb of J.M. Bubb & Sons hosted Potato Council’s technical field day at Lynn South Farm, Newport, Shropshire, where they grow around 400 acres of potatoes.
Potato Council’s Director, Dr Rob Clayton opened the event at the farm, urging industry to speak with ‘one voice’, saying, “The marketplace is crowded with competitive products so our industry needs to be loud and proud, and join together to bang the drum with consistent messages about potatoes. Potato Council will continue to provide the evidence base and the tools industry needs to ensure that potatoes are seen as a good food by shoppers, politicians and the media alike, remaining a staple on British plates.”
This message was followed up by Kate Cox, Potato Council’s marketing manager who talked about the latest market trends and consumer research around potato buying. “Consistent messages and signposting are key” said Kate. “We as an industry need to help consumers understand more about the wealth of potato varieties available – and the key types – so they can be easily identified, purchased and used to make a huge choice of quick, nutritious and good value meals, to fit in with today’s time-poor lifestyles and increasingly fragmented mealtime patterns. That’s where Potato Council’s ‘Fluffy-Smooth-Salad’ signposting comes in which helps consumers choose the right potato for the meals they want.”
The morning’s sessions continued with a hard look at costs of production for potato growers, with Nick Blake of Andersons discussing efficiencies, trends, the correlation between prices and production and the key messages growers could take away from the day. “Potato crops are generally between 5-7 times more expensive to produce than wheat crops,” said Nick. “Marginal gains are the only way to improve efficiencies of production – there is no ‘golden ticket’. So you need to understand your production costs to identify where those marginal gains can be made.”
John Amos, a Herefordshire land agent with nearly 40 years’ experience handling annual potato agreements, land tenders and leases, rounded off the morning with a fascinating look at risk and reward and the competition for land. Ranging from ecological focus areas (EFA’s) to cross-compliance and entitlements, John covered the wide range of land planning issues that growers have to consider when either letting or renting land for potato growing, stressing that ultimately, land contracts needed to be fair for both parties, otherwise they just won’t work.
The afternoon saw visitors choose from in-field sessions looking at soil sampling for PCN and cultivation techniques to aid strong rooting systems. Ivan Grove, of Harper Adams advised the best soil sampling regime, splitting down the sampling areas to obtain the true picture of PCN populations in the field. He added that, whilst increased costs would be a factor with more thorough sampling, these were negligible compared to crop losses incurred from increasing and undetected levels of PCN in your land. PCN multiplication can be 40-fold, so nematicide is needed even on low - or no - population areas.
John Sarup of Spud Agronomy looked at the effect on soil profiles and rooting brought about by varying cultivation methods, and talked about how we are generally guilty of overworking soils and that as each season is different, so adjustments are needed to your cultivation plans every year.
Back in the new farm sheds, further presentations were on offer, one with Andrew Kneeshaw from the Farm Energy Centre looking at the range of renewable energy options that can be used to power the potato store and save money.
The other saw Adrian Briddon, technologist from Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research, giving an update on forthcoming CIPC application limits for ware and processing crops. Adrian advised further that if you use CIPC, you must check and adhere to the statutory conditions of use and, now more than ever, it is critical users adopt best practice. The easiest way of doing this is to use an NAAC applicator. The Be CIPC Compliant website, from the Potato Industry CIPC Stewardship Group has all the information needed to help growers and store managers remain within the regulatory requirements and keep their stored crops in optimum conditions.