Monday, 30 November 2015

Strategic Potato Farm: winter event details

Did you attend a farm walk? Did you join us at the open day? Perhaps you have been checking in with this blog? Or were present at the BP2015 seminar? 

AHDB Potatoes would now like to invite you to our indoor SPot Farm review event which will bring together all the in-field activity from the past season into one day in Staffordshire.

When: Thursday 3 December 2015 - 09:30 to 15:30

Where: Hawkesyard Estate and St Thomas’s Priory Golf Club, Rugeley, Staffordshire, WS15 1PU

Directions: By road: From the south on M6 TOLL, leave at J4, A38 signposted Lichfield, A51 signposted Rugeley and follow the signs to Golf Club. From the north on M6 leave at Jct 15, A34 signposted Stone, A51 signposted Rugeley, A460 signposted Armitage and follow the brown tourist signs to Golf Club. 

Annually around £1.5 million of levy is invested in an AHDB Potatoes research and innovation programme. This has aims to drive efficient and economical production and increase marketable yield.

The all-new Strategic Potato Farm introduced in Spring is a demonstration of the latest, independent best practice in a commercial setting.

This event is a fantastic opportunity to explore, question and discuss the findings and observations from the wide ranging technical demonstrations which have been implemented this past growing season by our hosts W B Daw & Son.
What have we examined?

- Soil & cultivations

- Crop nutrition
- Preventing run-off

- Precision techniques
- Irrigation scheduling

- Seed rates
- In-field greening

Through small groups discussions we will dig into the detail. With the help of leading experts including researchers from NIAB CUF, as well as our host James Daw, this event will help ensure you have the answers and information you need to take the latest research-led thinking back to your enterprise.
Please join us for coffee and registration from 9.30am.
Lunch will be provided and the event will draw to a close at 3.30pm.  
Look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

SPot Farm at the Harrogate event BP2015

With the crop now loaded into store, we're turning our attention to creating a series of technical summary videos which will be launched at BP2015.

The online resources, viewable on our website will capture the past season at Gravelley Bank and summarise the research behind the in-field demonstrations. They will also highlight some of the observations from the season.

 As well as having a set of technical videos available, on Thursday 12 November, day one of the two day BP2015 event, we will be running a seminar session entitled 'Putting research into practice'. As well as featuring Adrian Cunnington from our Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research Centre, Dr Philip Burgess will present on the SPot Farm initiative.

Philip will review with delegates the activities which have been underway at this first Farm. A programme of work which has followed the crop through the season and looked at the practicalities and realities of implementing the latest research.

This seminar will be the first opportunity which Philip has to share some of the emerging take home technical messages.

For more information about the seminar programme visit:

And if you haven't done so already, register now to attend the event for free and for fast tracked entry:

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A desiccated SPot Farm crop

Graeme speaking at our July Open Day
With desiccation having taken place, Graeme Ditty, one of James’ agronomists, has provided a short update on the situation in Gravelly Bank.

In determining burn off date, dry matter percentage, the number of floaters in a 18.5% brine solution and the size of crop needed are key factors. In the case of Innovator we’re looking at reaching a dry matter percentage of around 20% with floater numbers in single figures and tuber sizes over 45mm with a total count of less than 65 per 10kg. 

In most cases we would like to see the canopy starting to senesce naturally and Gravelly Bank was starting to senesce when it received its first dose of Diquat. The tuber count was around 40/10kg, dry matter c.21%, with no floaters or defects. The crop was frying with 7 at 00 and 3 at 0. So were good to go. 

With regards to methods of desiccation, we use either a flail and spray technique or more commonly a straightforward chemical desiccant. In the case of the Gravelly Bank Innovator we used a 1L/ha treatment of 200g/l Diquat in a 300L/ha solution which helped open up the canopy so that the stems were more visible and then followed this with a further 3L/ha of 200g/l Diquat in 300L/ha solution 7 days later to finish off the desiccation. 

With both dessication treatments, a tuber blight active fungicide (Fluazinam in this case) was added due to the crop being destined for storage. 

There was plenty of moisture in the ridge at burn-off – sufficient to easily form a ball when squeezed.  
From the initial desiccant application the crop will be left for up to 4 weeks to allow the skins to fully set. So far the approach has been successful with no sign of any regrowth. But we will be keeping a close eye on the crop until its safely in store. 

Elsewhere on the farm, James is in the full swing of lifting, with conditions a little on the dry side in need of a shower. He is expecting harvest of the SPot Farm crop to take place towards the end of the second week of October. Stay tuned to see how things play out.

Monday, 14 September 2015

September Farm Walk - digging begins

Thanks to all who joined us from near and far for Friday's farm walk. This was the final field event of the season and provided visitors with a great opportunity to speak with our host James Daw, and get an update as the growing season comes to an end. Lifting, by hand was well underway on site and visitors were able to see first-hand the initial results and observations of the wide range of demonstrations we have had running on site. A few snaps from the walk are shared below.

 Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks.

Friday, 21 August 2015

August farm walk highlights

Thanks to everyone who joined us yesterday afternoon for what was a fantastic farm walk and discussion group. Here are a few snaps and comments from the session ran with the assistance of David Firman and Marc Allison from NIAB CUF.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Date for the diary and some snaps from a recent site visit

Date for the diary
Our events calender has another evening farm walk planned for Thursday 20th August, 4-6 pm.

Following the post-emergence and open day events in June and July, this August farm walk will give you a chance to explore the different work programmes being demonstrated, and get an update as the crop reaches the point of senescence. It's a great opportunity to hear from James Daw, our host, as well as new information from NIAB CUF experts, David Firman and Marc Allison.

So, whether its your first visit to the site, or you want an update to see how things are progressing, we'd love you to join us. Please register here:

We would love to see you there!

AHDB Potatoes Board visits the SPot Farm
I thought I would also share a few photos after welcoming the AHDB Potatoes Board to the SPot Farm last week. Included in the pack are some images of the tramline machinery demonstration strips as they stand currently, with the canopy stripped back.

To view a short biography about each of our Board members, visit:

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Open day highlights (part 2!)

Right, lets pick up from where we left off with some more highlights from last week's SPot Farm Open Day...

Optimising seed rates
Phil Burgess, from AHDB Potatoes, spoke to delegates about the principles of obtaining seed rates - talking about the need for tuber size and chronological age to be taken into account, and the impact these factors have on stem number and final yields.

Philip Burgess
Phil also highlighted the portfolio of seed rate guides, available from AHDB, which have been developed following extensive trials work with NIAB CUF. He also updated delegates on work to develop parameters which can allow seed rates to be devised for any variety. To view the seed rate guides currently available, visit:

In-field greening and crop variability
Simon Smart, from NIAB CUF, introduced delegates to the in-field greening project and crop variability studies underway at the site. The greening project specifically is an AHDB Fellowship study. This is looking at greening in relation to planting depth and the location and growth patterns of tubers and stolons within the ridge, and also varietal variances. Current industry figures suggest 10% of packhouse losses are attributable to greening - a statistic which highlighted the value of this work. For more information about the AHDB Potatoes agronomy fellowship visit:

The crop variability study being demonstrated at the SPot Farm forms part of a CUPGRA-sponsored PhD. This is investigating factors that can influence crop variability and the effect varying plant spacing can have on yield. This aims to answer the question as to whether adjusting spacing is important or not. 
Simon Smart speaking with delegates
Cultivation strategies
Mark Stalham, from NIAB-CUF, presented on cultivation strategies and the potential to reduce practices in terms of both the kit used (plough to min-till) and the depth worked to. 

The message from Mark, backed up by extensive research, is that we're able to operate shallower and still maintain yield and quality. A move which also offers benefits in the form of improved work rates and reduced costs. But clearly there's a need to be flexible and work with the season and field conditions - with the timing of cultivations and water content at time of working important considerations. Mark reiterated the risks of going too deep or poorly timing cultivations, with compaction, slumping and subsequent cropping implications all mentioned. 

Dr Mark Stalham
Nutrient planning
Rounding off the tour, nutrient planning was mine and Mark Taplin’s topic for the day – a slot in which we highlighted the demonstration strips on site which have had nitrogen applications adjusted for a muck application prior to planting and a grazed stubble turnip crop previously. An adjustment which delivered a 20kg N/ha saving in fertiliser use, with no visible impact on the condition of the crop.

Mark and I also highlighted the recent publication of AHDB Potatoes grower collaboration report for the 2014 season. A programme which, not unlike the SPot Farm, saw in-field comparison strips established on farms around the country. In some instances, it was found that increased tuber initiation, and in turn yield, was seen from fine tuning nitrogen applications. To view the complete Grower Collaboration report visit the following page:
Mark Taplin and me (Hannah)
Thank you
On a final note, I want to say a HUGE thank you to James, Sam and the rest of the Daw team for their support with the Open Day – we couldn’t have done it without you.

James and Sam Daw
And thank you to everyone for the feedback – please keep it coming – this is just the beginning! And we are on the hunt for a SPot Farm east if you’re interested…..

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Open Day highlights

Last Thursday we hosted the first Open Day at the Strategic Potato Farm in Staffordshire. A day which drew strong delegate numbers – sufficient to consume over 170 portions of fish and Shropshire chips, populate 5 guided tours, swarm three soil pits and observe one flying drone.

For those of you who couldn’t join us – and even for those who did – I thought I would mark the day with a highlights piece. I've also provided some links to extra information, after hopefully sparking your interest on the day!

Our host, James Daw, and AHDB's Philip Burgess welcomed and introduced delegates to the 20 hectare site, 'Gravelly Bank', which this year is cropped with Innovator for the processed chip market.

Breaking into groups, delegates then took one of our expert lead tours around eight key demonstration areas being presented at the SPot Farm. 

Preventing run off
Philip Wright
Philip Wright of Wright Resolutions Ltd took the first slot of the tour and introduced delegates to the tramline machinery which is being trialled, in a session entitled ‘Preventing run off.’ 

Delegates were shown comparison strips where three different tramline machines had been used on a gentle sloping area of the field. And we observed was quite marked difference between those treated (with either the Richard Lapage Wonder Wheel, Briggs Tied Ridger or Aquagronomy Wheel Tracker roller) and untreated. There were clear benefits to using the machines in preventing run off compared with a bare tramline.

The importance of organic matter, and the effect of tyre pressures and axle loads, on soil structure was another topic Philip presented on. With tyre pressures changes from 18psi to 13psi resulting in infiltration rates six times faster. Demonstrating how relatively slight adjustments can have significant impacts. Both Philip and James emphasised the importance of maintaining and building organic matter levels within the soil, with workability being just one of the benefits highlighted. 

Visiting will give you access to all our latest news, publications and information relevant to soils. 

Making the most of every drop
Graeme Ditty
Graeme Ditty and Jenny Bashford, from Harvest Agronomy Ltd and AHDB Potatoes respectively, presented on irrigation scheduling and the importance of efficient and appropriate water use by businesses.

Graeme, James’ agronomist, walked delegates through the NIAB-CUF irrigation schedule which is being used on the site. This incorporates CanopyCheck app (ground cover) assessments as well as meteorological and soil probe data to calculate a weekly schedule that draws irrigation water from James' newly installed reservoir. Irrigation timings on the site are based on the clay loam soil and an increasing soil moisture deficit to a maximum of 47mm. Delegates were urged that improved resource efficiency makes good business sense. A dynamic irrigation system which changes to meet the crop's evolving demand was advocated as Graeme - matching crop development and root growth. 

Delegates were also shown an unirrigated – effectively droughted – strip of crop, and quite astounding differences in its development were visible, with up to 40% less crop in the unirrigated land. 

Jenny Bashford highlighted there being an abstraction reform underway. She briefed delegates on the impending expiration of time-limited licences granted to agriculture in the next seven years. Jenny also advised of a process to licence previously exempt activities (such as trickle irrigation) expected this year with implementation in 2016. And called for levy payers to sit up to attention and keep up to date with changes that could influence production in the very near future. For more information and the latest information, visit

Matt Smallwood
Challenges of varietal development
Matt Smallwood, McCain Foods GB agronomist, spoke of the challenges of varietal development. He highlighted the advances in genomics and the mapping of the potato genome. 

Don’t forget we have an AHDB Potatoes Variety database which provides independent data on GB-certified potato varieties that have undergone independent resistance testing for key pests, diseases and pathogens. The variety testing which is presented in the database is undertaken through the AHDB Potatoes-funded Independent Variety Trials (IVT) programme. This provides independent resistance data for pests, diseases and pathogens deemed to be of high importance/threat to our potato crops.

Precision in potatoes
Jim Wilson, from Soilessentials, and Keith Geary, from Low Level Earth Observation, introduced delegates to some of the precision techniques James and Sam are employing on the site, with talk of soil mapping and drones being two particular highlights.
EC scan of Gravelly Bank

Soil scanning and yield mapping is allowing James and Sam to build up a wealth of information. It is also helping them to better understand the land their working with and where they can push the yield potential further and make savings in areas that consistently under perform.

Results of soil electrical conductivity (EC) scans were also presented - a technique which can be used to assess the water holding capacity and content of soils. 

And so that that takes us to the half way point in the tour - more to follow very soon!

Monday, 13 July 2015

NFU Potato Forum pledge support for SPot Farm

9 days, 21 hours and counting until our July Open Day!

Next week see's the SPot Farm Open Day take place, a chance to take an expert led tour around a comprehensive 20 hectare demonstration site.

Several members of NFU’s Potato Forum had a sneak preview at our farm walk evening during June and were really supportive of the range of work on display.

Gloucestershire seed grower Graham Nichols was emphatic. “We need to improve our operations all the time,” said Graham “Bit-by-bit, we need to get more efficient and increase our yields and quality if we are to remain competitive.

“I noted several areas where I could perhaps be making improvements on my own farm. I’ll certainly be back to see what the crop looks like later in the season. There is a considerable amount of knowledge being developed at this site and visiting the open day 23 July is a must.”

Seed rate principals and the yield impact of variable depth bed-forming, destoning, and bed tilling practices was popular with attendees.

“The work on seed bed depths and the time and savings associated with that was really impressive,” said Lancashire grower Robin Cropper. “I’d encourage other growers to see this for themselves and challenge their on-farm practice.”

An area which particularly impressed Norfolk Agronomist, Andy Alexander was the use of tram line and bed profile management tools on sloped ground. The study is evaluating the Richard Lapage Wonder Wheel; the Briggs Tied Ridger; and The Aqua Agronomy Creyke tied tracker roller. 

“Considerable run off was occurring following 25mm of irrigation in untreated areas,” said Andy “While in the trial area, run off was almost completely mitigated. Seeing these options in action really makes a difference.”

Register for the open day at or contact Miya Kotecha on 07792 209 919. 

I look forward to seeing you there!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Events kick-off with evening farm walk

Last evening we welcomed a great group of potato enthusiasts to the site for our first event - an evening farm walk.

Philip Burgess, AHDB Potatoes Head of Knowledge Transfer and Communications welcomed the turnout of growers and agronomists and explained the concept of a Strategic Potato Farm being to take the large programme of research funded by levy payers and bring it out into the open. 
James Daw, the farm's host was on hand, along with Dr Mark Stalham and Simon Smart of NIAB-CUF.

Particularly impressive was an area of the crop that had been worked with various tramline machinery to prevent run off. 

During the farm walk the irrigator was applying 25 mm of irrigation to the treated crop.

If any groups want to visit the demonstrations - please get in touch to arrange a visit.

And to top off a great day - I also took receipt of my FACTS certificate! Newly qualified! 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Irrigation scheduling on site

We all recognise the importance of water and its value as a resource. With demand for water increasing, there is a need to justify applications and demonstrate efficient use, from the point of environmental protection, and to meet crop protocol requirements. 

Click here to stay up to date with my colleague Jenny’s water related activity including the recently published early-season irrigation guide

On site, James will be irrigating the crop with a boom irrigator using water supplied from his recently installed reservoir. The boom is on site now and ready to go. But with 27mm of rain at the weekend, it’s still on standby.

 Irrigation which is to be applied to the site is being scheduled using the NIAB-CUF Irrigation Model. Following set up, this uses weekly rainfall data collected from the on-site weather station, and the CanopyCheck app which measures crop ground cover. For more information on the NIAB-CUF tools visit:  

As well as having the irrigation scheduled, there is also to be a deliberately ‘droughted’ area which will demonstrate the effect of missing irrigation at crucial stages.

Don’t forget you can register here to visit the SPot Farm in the coming weeks:

Friday, 5 June 2015

Your chance to explore the SPot Farm

With emergence afoot, its time I share with you some of our event plans for the summer at the SPot Farm.

WHERE: W B Daw & Son; Bellamour Lane, Colton, Rugeley, Staffs, WS15 3JR


Thursday 23 July 2015: Main Open Day, 9.30-3.30pm

If you would like to join us, please register online by clicking on either of the event links above or contact Miya Kotecha on 07792 209 919. 

And here are my top 10 reasons as to why you should join us: 
  • See the findings of independent and rigorous trials being put into practice and how the latest techniques can be implemented on your own farm
  • You’ve read this blog and want to see more
  • Examine the effect of adjusting destoning, bedforming and bedtilling operations on yields, work rates and costs
  • Challenge Mark Stalham of NIAB CUF and other experts involved in our recent research
  • Network and debate with likeminded growers
  • See James Daw’s use of precision in potatoes – from drones, soil scanning and variable rate applications to yield mapping
  • View work underway looking at how to reduce in-field greening & manage crop variability
  • Compare tramline machinery being used to reduce run-off and explore irrigation scheduling tools
  • Explore the use of weather stations and soil moisture probe data in potato production
  • See how best to achieve payback on R&D levy spend for your business

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Trialing tramline machinery

Water retention and minimising run-off are considerable soil and water management challenges for agriculture, let alone potatoes, to meet. You’ll be all too aware of the benefits, not just from an environmental perspective and mitigating potential negative impacts, but from the point of preserving an asset and achieving high yielding and quality tubers. Good soil structure free of compaction is fundamental – for drainage and root growth, efficient nutrient use and an adequate oxygen supply, all needed for crops to perform at their best.

Previously, MOPSII, a DEFRA funded project led by ADAS and supported by AHDB Potatoes, looked at mitigating options for phosphorous and sediment losses. And this included studies of various tramline soil management treatments including tines and tied ridges. Results showed there to be practical, cost-effective methods to reduce shallow compaction, run-off, and erosion and diffuse pollution risk. All without impacting yield.

It’s clear that there is still room for improvement in potato production, in terms of both understanding and in-field practice. Effective soil management remains a key activity area today for AHDB Potatoes. Click here to visit our soils homepage for access to recent and on-going research projects as well as our latest management guides and news.

Sandy loams and loams have a potentially well-balanced capacity to retain water, form a stable structure, provide adequate aeration, and possess a suitable thermal regime. Soils that are further away from these soils types are likely to need greater amounts of careful management to maintain the optimal sustainable soil management needed for quality production. The more sandy or gravelly soils more drought prone, while more silty and clayey soils with a tendency to compact and crust, and a higher risk of both drainage impedance and water erosion. At the SPot Farm this season, we’re sited on a sandy clay loam soil - a medium soil with a clay content between 19-35%. Not dissimilar to other soils this type this has the potential for vulnerability to drainage and structural problems.

Three bits of still novel kit are being trialed this season at the SPot Farm on an area of sloped ground. Below are a few picture from James of the machinery in use on what was still some moist ground below the surface.

Richard Lapage's Wonder Wheel in action.

Briggs Tied Ridger - with paddle wheels to form and press consistently sized and spaced dams. More info available at: 

Aqua Agronomy Creyke The Wheel Tracker Roller - forming reservoirs to hold surface water with fissures to help movement through the soil and tines to channel into the adjoining crop. More info available at: 

It would be great to hear of your own experiences and interest in these bits of kit or similar – feel free to comment below. And we will keep an eye on the ridges as we also watch the weather station

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Installing soil probes while the sun shines...

This morning I joined the Agrii installation team as six Adcon Telemetry soil moisture sensors and rain gauges were installed throughout the SPot Farm crop.

The main message from the team was that installation is key. The input at this stage is crucial in ensuring accurate and reliable sensor readings, and therefore meaningful monitoring data which will feed in to decision support systems and modelling.

Careful augering allowed the crew to retain the soil structure around each probe to provide a reflection of the wider field condition. And avoid hitting the seed potatoes too!

Each soil moisture sensor will now be recording soil moisture and temperature within the row, to a depth of 60cm and at 10cm intervals. The data will be feeding through into GPRS transmitters and a main receiver on site before being pooled in to an online system.

With a wealth of data now being gleaned from the site, over the coming days we’ll explore the data dashboards being created online and see how this information can be used.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Wind and a weather station

After a week or so away from site, things are looking slightly more weathered. And there's certainly some moisture about.

Hoping (and succeeding) to beat the forecast rain, the Agrii MetQuest team today installed the SPot Farm's weather station.

This particular system is equipped with an air temperature and humidity sensor, rain gauge, wind sensors, a pyranometer for measuring solar radiation levels as well as GPRS transmitters and a solar panel power supply.

And following shortly will be some soil moisture sensors and temperature probes.

Now live, collecting and recording weather information we soon hope to be able to share the data dashboard with you all.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Phil Burgess' 90 second update

Phil's update discusses how we are bringing together the AHDB Potatoes funded research on one 20ha site, and gives a flavour of the range of practices we'll be showcasing this season. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

My mission (James Bond style)…

Hannah Goodwin
My mission is to keep you connected with the goings on at the Strategic Potato Farm here in Rugeley Staffordshire over the coming weeks and months.

As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words, so get ready for plenty of all-weather photos and video clips.

If there’s anything specific you would like me to chart on the journey, let me know – my contact details are in the top right hand corner of the page.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Land work begins

This weekend saw the start of field preparations at the site which has been in kale and grazed by sheep up until February. 

Simba SL 700 cultivator in action which was then followed by a TWB machine, both working at shallow depths.
But its not all plain sailing, with 5mm of rain last night and the ground white with frost this morning.

Still freezing!

A flavour of some of the things James is involved with...

James Daw features on ITV
Click here to view the full clip:

Friday, 10 April 2015

Blogjectives – much more than just a journal…

This is the start of a blog in which we aim to highlight some of the extensive research work underway at the demonstration farm and provide a platform to stimulate thought and discussion on potato production best practice.  
Through this blog we will:

·         Keep you up-to-date with the demonstration farm and areas of work being examined

·         Provide regular updates on the progress of the crop and field operations taking place

·         Share with you treatment differences and the effects of various production practices on the  crop

·         Explore the thinking behind practices being tried to help you consider what would work on your own enterprise

Thursday, 9 April 2015

What’s this all about then?

This potato growing season sees the start of an all-new programme of work which will run through until the end of the 2018/19 cropping year. With each year focusing on different topic areas of AHDB Potatoes funded research.

Factual, evidence-based advice, information and activity is core to what we do at AHDB Potatoes. At the Strategic Potato Farm we are up scaling the research work we fund to commercial, field-level demonstrations. Gone are the 12 metre plots. At James Daw and family’s farm in Staffordshire we’re examining potato production from a best practice perspective on a 20 hectare site.

James has pioneered some of the latest precision techniques (click here to view a recent press article) and we’ll be featuring this work on the site as well.

We will be running a series of open days and workshops, as well as producing a series electronic tools. All aimed at helping you take the latest thinking and industry developments home to your enterprise.

Through this blog we’ll keep you updated with all this activity. And there will be input from James and members of the team at AHDB Potatoes, as well as NIAB CUF, who have been involved in the research which sits behind these demonstrations.