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Growers address regional challenges at Potato Days

2 August 2011

Industry delegates have received practical advice at Potato Days.

Growers in Kent and adjacent counties attending the South East Potato Day debated with the speakers subjects close to their hearts, such as the use of compost and the local impact of water legislation. 

At the well-attended event , held close to the sea on Midsummer’s Day, June 24 at Quex Barn in Birchington, growers were encouraged to hear that the Environment Agency is addressing potential and real threats to water quality from other industries such as the local airport. Senior Environment Agency officer for agriculture Ben Tragett spoke of the challenges faced by the southern region in addition to giving practical, helpful advice on farm inspection visits and record keeping.

In addition his talk covered current issues such as NVZs and pesticides – including the good news that there is evidence that incidences of Atrazine, Simazine and Diuron occuring in groundwater are decreasing.

Dr Jeff Peters from Fera and AHDB Potatoes technical executive Chris Steele looked at the possibilities and potential risks of using compost for potato growing. Kentish growers, who have to contend with a weak soil structure with low water-holding capacity, were interested in discussing the results of the WRAP report with the experts.

Compost is an under-used and cheap resource. Regular use of compost maintains and improves soil organic matter, improves water retention and soil nutrition,” explained Chris.

“Compost will be of particular value for potatoes grown on lighter land where water for irrigation is limited. It is an option but should first be discussed with their customers.”

Jeff pointed out the stakeholder concerns identified by the study, such as physical contaminants, nutrient status, pathogens and nematodes and these were discussed alongside the benefits.

 “There are risks to using compost, but they must be seen in context,” said Chris. “Ware growers should equate the costs and benefits of using compost and make an informed decision.

“It is vital that any composts used in the potato sector are PAS 100 compliant – controlled quality standards are a must,” he added.

In the afternoon Dr David Glen from Styloma Research and Consulting looked at new approaches to assessing slug risk and control.

“It was a fascinating talk,” commented Chris. “We have noted that there is considerable room for improvement in slug control in potatoes. With the restrictions in the use of metaldehyde, there is a powerful impetus to improve the timing and targeting of slug pelleting.”

David Hudson from David Hudson Potato Services held an in-field discussion on PCN and the impact of the Water Framework Directive on both ware and seed growers.

Connecting with consumer trends key in recovery market, growers hear

Potato volumes have held in the recession, with 12%* growth in consumption of chilled, high value potato dishes.  There are significant marketing opportunities for potatoes, especially to drive up value, according to Caroline Evans, head of marketing for the levy-funded AHDB Potatoes.

Some 200 growers and purchasers at the West Midlands Potato Day, hosted by Robert Belcher at Tibberton Manor Farm in Newport, were presented with prospects for the 2010 crop by AHDB Potatoes and independent specialists.

Caroline demonstrated the effect of the recession and how that had impacted the potato market, bringing changes in consumer trends.

“More meals are being eaten at home, as consumers look to save money. Looking at fresh potatoes in retail, there has been trading down so the organic sector has suffered. Encouragingly, the premium end of the market has held.

“The challenge now is to maintain demand, while driving up value in the market - consumers need to be encouraged to trade back up. Chilled potato dishes continue to be a growth sub-sector now accounting for 4.7%* of total market value.

 ”Consumers need quick, simple and tasty meals and the industry must continue to meet those lifestyle needs,” she concluded. “At the AHDB Potatoes we will continue to research and study sales drivers so levy payers can make informed business decisions that help their profitability.”

Caroline encouraged growers to take advantage of the regular retail report produced by AHDB Potatoes and new reports on food service and in home usage that would be available later this year.

Alan Spedding from Arthur Rank Centre at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire called for a drive to encourage consumers’ enthusiasm for British food as part of the international effort to focus on food security.
 
Stuart Thomson, value chain specialist at collaboration consultancy  English Farming and Food Partnerships, stressed the need to connect consumers with the source of production. As agricultural policy continues to move away from subsidisation, there is an increasing reliance on market forces, requiring farmers to develop closer connections along the supply chain, he said.

The AHDB Potatoes event was sponsored by The Environment Agency, Greenvale AP and supported by McCain Foods (GB) Ltd.

For further information on the event and to download presentations please visit www.potato.org.uk/events.

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