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Real value from making change – SPot Farm programme triples

Publication Date: 
19 April 2016

Real value from making change – SPot Farm programme triples

Bolstering the Strategic Potato Farm programme that launched at WB Daw & Son in Staffordshire in 2015 two further farms are announced. 

"The SPot Farm programme demonstrates the on-farm implementation of the science from our £1.5m annual R&D investment in a commercial environment," states AHDB Potatoes’ head of Knowledge Exchange, Phil Burgess.

“Potato growers and agronomists are dealing with crops requiring considerable investment and skill to produce. They can often see the potential for new research and technology to have an impact on their business but lack the confidence to implement the change.”

Increasing productivity vs risk of failure

“It’s an unfortunate fact that for many potato businesses the risk of failure is simply too high to risk changing a system that works,” adds Phil.

“Reduce the water applied to prepack crops and risk common scab rejections – no way.

“Alter the fertiliser requirement for processing crops and risk dry matter problems – no way. “

Giving confidence to deliver change

The SPot Farm steps in here and gives growers an insight into how new systems and practice can be implemented on your own potato enterprise. It gives levy-payers and their agronomists more confidence to deliver change. And that change may benefit their businesses and the wider supply chain. Ultimately delivering sustainability for everyone.

Closer to you

In year one more than 300 potato supply-chain visitors came far and wide to see, debate and challenge their understanding of the demonstrations at SPot (West) in Staffordshire.  Feedback was encouraging with 89% of visitors rating SPot as relevant to their business.

The open days and farm walks not only allowed agronomists to keep up-to-speed with CPD, innovation and new developments. Growers were able to take the latest researched-based thinking to take back to their own potato enterprise.

Building on last year, we’re pleased to announce that in addition to SPot (West) this year we have two highly innovative businesses joining the programme: Bruce Farms in Perthshire (SPot Scotland) and Elveden Farms in West Suffolk (SPot West).

The real value lies in stimulating discussion

SPot enables everyone involved in the potato supply chain to interact, highlighting the gaps in communication where information needs to be more available

2016 – rapid expansion

Last year, James Daw and his son Sam, were instrumental in getting the programme off the ground and their enthusiasm ensured we had a wide range of work and demonstrations for everyone to see.

Events at SPot (West) kick off with a small group farm walk 30 June and an open day 19 July (potatoes.ahdb.org.uk/events). There will be further farm walk dates announced in August and September.

The programme

At each site, a steering group involving the grower, local agronomists, AHDB staff, researchers and others will determine the programme of demonstrations. Areas of work are still developing between the sites over the three years, but you can expect to see:

  • Developments in the control of PCN including bio fumigation in action.
  • Best practice in soil management and cultivations to increase yield and reduce cost
  • Store assessment and storage best practice
  • Greater understanding of Free Living Nematodes
  • The latest crop nutrition 'know-how' put into practice
  • Getting the most out of the water you apply and understanding what happens to it in the soil profile.
  • Seed management for improved uniformity
  • Putting precision into practice
  • Improved understanding of soil mechanics
  • Demonstrations of practical measures to protect the environment

All element are designed to give growers and agronomists the confidence to produce better yields of high quality crops cost effectively.

SPot (East)

Elveden Farms, in West Suffolk received £109,273 (spread over three years) funding from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative for SPot (East) which is coordinated and co-funded by AHDB Potatoes.

“Elveden Farms is a world-class producer and purveyor of local and regional food excellence with a reputation for wildlife conservation, in harmony with sustainable farming practices - making it the ideal location to establish a SPot Farm,” says AHDB Knowledge Exchange Manager and SPot East project coordinator, Jenny Bashford.

“We’re delighted to have the backing of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to enable this ambitious and beneficial project to take place,” said Jenny. “I’m also looking forward to the experience of working with someone of the calibre of innovative farm manager Andrew Francis and his motivated team at Elveden.

“As our SPot Farm hosts, Elveden will help us challenge conventional working practices and, using proven research, demonstrate how potato growers can benefit from applying beneficial adjustments to commercial growing systems.”

Andrew Francis, Senior Farms Manager at Elveden, added: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Elveden and the wider community. It will allow us to engage with the country’s best scientists and find ways of putting the research into practice.

“Through the knowledge exchange activities this experience will be available to all growers, and we will be able to lead change in the industry and look forward to a sustainable future.”

An Open day is arranged for 5 July with smaller farm walk dates set for May June, August and September.

SPot (Scotland)

Bruce Farms, based at Meigle in Perthshire will facilitate SPot (Scotland).

Claire Hodge, SPot (Scotland) Project Coordinator and Edinburgh based Knowledge Exchange Manager says, “Back in February we were delighted to be able to announce, alongside the Scottish Government, joint funding to bring our SPot Farm initiative to Scotland.”

“The search was then on to find a suitable farm. We’re thrilled that Bruce Farms has agreed to host the project located, where we believe, should be accessible and relevant to all Scottish potato growers.”

 “The SPot Farm project in Scotland will run for three growing seasons (2017, 18 and 19), with a series of open days, farm-walks and tailored group visits in each. Scottish growers will have the opportunity to engage with the project and help shape the development ideas and techniques over the three seasons.”

“Being a year ahead of schedule, there will be a 'soft' launch in the 2016 season where the SPot Farm will host a 24Ha (60acre) field of Maris Piper. Our initial focus will be a comparison of different primary and secondary cultivation techniques (bed tilling and stone separating) across the field with the help of precision farming data. This will be to develop best practice delivering improved crop production, and savings in time and energy use for Bruce farms based on AHDB-funded research on cultivations. Further subjects for examination will naturally arise for the forthcoming 3 seasons proper, as the project progresses and we hear the input of growers.”

“Like the highly successful monitor farm project, the real value of SPot lies in stimulating discussion. Bruce Farms are an exciting business to work with because of their commitment to improving systems and processes and their drive for quality, yield and optimum returns from their potato enterprise.”

“We look forward to our first SPot Farm open day at Bruce Farms on 12 July, 2016 (potatoes.ahdb.org.uk/events), at which all levy payers and other interested parties will be very welcome.”

Bruce Farms are one of the bigger potato growers in Scotland, growing over 270Ha (670acres), alongside cereals, blackcurrants, soft fruit, peas, beans and a pedigree cattle enterprise.

Kerr Howatson, Potato Manager for Bruce Farms commented on the SPot initiative:

“We aim to be forward thinking and to produce the best commercial potato crops that we possibly can on our own and rented ground across Perthshire and the Borders.”

“I look forward to hosting the SPot meetings here at Bruce Farms. It will be an extremely interesting opportunity to apply science to our commercial decision making process, challenge conventional working practices and bridge the gap between proven research and farm practice.”

“I am sure that the project will be of benefit to us as hosts and also to our potato farming colleagues across Scotland.”

Get involved - Visit a SPot Farm

There are a series of farm walks and an open day at each site. Keep an eye out at potatoes.ahdb.org.uk/events and make sure you come and engage with the site which is nearest to you.

But if you have a group that would like to arrange your own visit at a time to suit you – or there’s a particular topic you want to know more about then please get in touch and we’ll do our best to arrange something.

Think there’s something else we should be looking at? We’d be delighted to hear from you, just contact Richard Laverick email: Richard.Laverick@ahdb.org.uk. tel:  024 7647 8678.

There are still opportunities to learn from the 2015 demonstration.

We’ve produced a series of videos which summarise the main areas of work. Perhaps you visited and want to know more. Or perhaps you weren’t able to visit. Then sit back and let us bring the SPot farm to your desktop or mobile.

WATCH the videos at potatoes.ahdb.org.uk/video They provide an easy-access opportunity to explore, question and discuss the findings from the wide ranging technical demonstrations. 

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