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Strategic Farm programme gave confidence to manage risks

24 January 2019

The Strategic Potato Farm East programme provided Elveden Farms’ Director Andrew Francis with a ‘mental safety net,’ helping manage the risk of making changes to his business.

Reflecting on the last three years as host, Andrew explained how the programme had grown, from initially being conceptual to the ‘slick process’ it is now. He said he was proud of his team and spoke about how the work carried out would enable him to meet challenges in the ever-changing potato industry.

Over 100 delegates attended the packed event at Newmarket Racecourse in January, to hear results from trials and demonstrations carried out at Strategic Potato Farm East.

Singling out the most valuable work on farm, Andrew highlighted trials looking at Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) tolerance and resistance in different potato varieties as being of particular value to his business, and the industry as a whole.

Andrew said: “While the work looking at PCN tolerance was particularly useful for us, the Strategic Farm programme has benefitted the business in many ways. The responsibility of providing in season data to underpin each year’s demonstrations meant we had to become even better at data recording and communication. As a result, we have been able to adapt some of our key management practices. 

“For any growers considering applying I’d recommend taking part; the benefits are certainly measureable.” 

Work on PCN was presented to audiences by Graham Tomalin, head of agronomist firm VCS Potatoes Ltd, who was one of a number of speakers discussing projects from the last few years. In his talk Graham made a crucial distinction between what is meant by ‘resistance’ and ‘tolerance,’ to PCN in growing conditions.

Graham also presented the findings from a three year demonstration programme looking at a variety of different residual herbicide combinations. With growers faced with an ever-shrinking toolkit following the revocation of linuron and diquat, Graham warned that costs were likely to rise for growers. He advised that the best combination is the one tailored to the grower’s own weed spectrum.

Senior research associates at NIAB CUF: Dr Mark Stalham and Dr Marc Allison reported on work looking at the application of nitrogen (N) to crops. Dr Allison reported that driving big yields was not a matter of how much N a grower applies, rather ‘it’s how much N we can get into the crop and at what rate’.

AHDB’s Senior Knowledge Exchange Manager Graham Bannister, said: “Elveden Estate has seen an incredible term as Strategic Potato Farm East and we’re exceedingly grateful for Andrew’s engagement with the whole programme.

We are now nearly at the end of the application window, but there is still a few days left to apply to become the next host and build on the legacy of the work carried out, so if you’re a potato grower based in the East of England, prepared to work with researchers and other growers then please get in touch.”

To apply to become the next host of Strategic Farm East by email: graham.bannister@ahdb.org.uk.

AHDB Potatoes has five Strategic Potato Farms spread across Great Britain, part of a network of over 60 farms in AHDB’s Farm Excellence programme. Strategic Farms supply the industry with the confidence to implement new ideas and make business improvements.

More information on PCN can be found in the AHDB publication: PCN Grower Guide.

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