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!