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Growers back CUF research findings

11 September 2011

Validated through trials work and now backed up with impressive first-year results from the Grower Collaboration project, the way forward on research that focuses on improving marketable yield was discussed at a AHDB Potatoes forum.

The results speak for themselves, but the best way to implement the fruits of the research on farm will depend heavily on individual circumstances. Growers, researchers and other industry representatives gathered at Peterborough recently to discuss how to improve the marketable yield of growers’ crops.

A wealth of AHDB Potatoes-funded research, carried out by Cambridge University Farm (CUF), has illustrated clear-cut benefits from implementing the latest developments in potato crop agronomy and management. These have now been backed up with eye-opening results achieved in the Grower Collaboration project, where standard crop management was compared with a modified approach recommended by CUF.

There’s no question that growers can make big improvements to marketable yield, or substantial savings in their cost of production, pointed out CUF’s David Firman – many years of CUF trials have validated the research.

“But the potato crop is very complex. To make progress you do need to understand the underlying principles and look at the whole body of evidence across all evaluations and experiments.”

The more you know about your seed crop’s provenance, the more scope there is to adjust seed rate and spacing to achieve target tuber size, and therefore improve the marketable yield. New seed rate tables are now available for Estima and are currently being produced for a number of other varieties.

The new RB209 fertiliser recommendations will take account of some of the recent research to help growers target nitrogen more effectively. But there is still a large range in recommended rates, noted CUF’s Marc Allison. This varies by up to 60kgN/ha for varieties in RB209 group 2, such as Maris Peer and Lady Rosetta.

“This illustrates there is potential to fine-tune N recommendations. These should be based on the individual needs of each crop.”

Rates have been fine-tuned successfully with some fairly impressive results on farms that have taken part in the Grower Collaboration project. James Harrison, from North Norfolk Potato Growers (NNPG) revealed he had initial concerns about the scale of the seed and fertiliser savings adopted under the CUF approach.

“You do need to have faith in what you’re doing. We’ve been very dependent on keeping nitrogen rates high to feed our Saturna crop through the season. It goes against the grain to cut back and risk seeing it die back early.”

But the strategy appeared to work – CUF based seed rate and nitrogen input recommendations on detailed agronomic information supplied by NNPG. Cost savings amounted to £139/ha and £51/ha respectively, with no loss in marketable yield between the CUF approach and the farm’s own agronomic management.

Similar results have been achieved by Staffordshire-based Tame Valley Potatoes, reports agronomist Mark Taplin. Taking part in the project has meant investing quite a bit of time monitoring crop growth, and very detailed agronomic information is required to fine-tune inputs.

“You do need to have a good understanding of the system to get the most out of it, so the benefits for individual growers may be limited. Maybe the way forward is to apply the approach over grower groups.”

A guide summarising progress and the next steps from the CUF research, Improving Marketable Yield, is available from AHDB Potatoes publications – email potatoes.publications@ahdb.org.uk.

The following reports by Cambridge University Farm are available:

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