Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The results are in! Debate the findings at a SPot Farm event this January

The results are in! Join one of two interactive events (or both!) to kick start your 2017.

The first growing season for SPot Farm East is now complete and SPot Farm West has had a second season to build upon the findings of last year while tackling new challenges.

We will explore the data and findings which could benefit your business in 2017.

Delve into the data and discuss the implications for your farm!

This practical, farmer-led approach to putting research into practice is generating a great deal of useful information and giving growers the confidence to consider change. Many topics have been covered, with different programmes at each SPot Farm site:

Nitrogen application, common scab control, irrigation efficiency, bio-fumigation, PCN tolerance, seed physiology and seed rates, chitting, use of cover crops, optimising cultivations, the growing importance of sulphur, herbicide efficacy and precision agriculture through yield mapping. 


Keep up-to-speed with innovation & new developments
See the findings of independent & rigorous trials put into practice
Discuss how the latest techniques can be implemented on your own farm
You’ve read this blog & want to see more 
Challenge the science & the experts involved in our recent research
Network & debate with likeminded growers

Get payback on R&D levy spend for your business

There will also be opportunity at this event to put forward suggestions for development of the SPot Farm programme. 

The details:

SPot Farm West:  
Thursday, 5 January, 2017  (9:00-15:30)
Kegworth Hotel & Conference Centre, Packington Hill, Kegworth, DE74 2DF
>> Agenda

SPot Farm East:
Wednesday, 11 January, 2017 (9:00-15:30)
Rowley Mile Racecourse, Newmarket, Suffolk, CB8 0TF
>> Agenda

Lunch and refreshments provided. 
BASIS and NRoSO points available. 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Farm walk at SPot Farm West, 22 September 2016

The date of the final farm walk at Thorpe Constantine gave a demanding deadline for Matt Smallwood of McCain and Mark Stalham and his colleagues of NIAB CUF to take yield digs. 

Neither man is shy with a fork, and there was some intense digging behind the results provided for the visitors.

Who got it right on cultivation?
A courteous veneer covered, but did not conceal, the competition between Mark Stalham of NIAB CUF and James Daw, the SPot host. As the visitors gathered round these two experts in the Russet Burbank of Field 33, each of them spoke about a ‘best practice’ treatment, but they weren’t referring to the same treatment!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Mummy and Daddy dare to do...

...what Granny or the Child Minder decide not to.

Out in the woods on a crisp January day, a child clamours to be allowed to cross the stream, walking on the trunk of a fallen tree.
The surface of the tree trunk glistens with frost.
(The parent thinks ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’)
“All right Jamie, be careful”.
('Good balance….. doing nicely…..')  
* Splash! *
“OK Jamie, I’ve got you. Now let’s run home and put you in a hot bath.”

This small story depicts how a parent might allow certain risks for their own child. 
However there are often others involved in the care of the child, and they will have to take a different stance in their considerations. 

Granny might like to say yes to Jamie, but is unsure of her daughter/son-in-law’s attitude to children learning by their mistakes. The Child Minder has to be mindful of Social Services.

There is a broader message behind this story that applies as much to farming and is simply that: 

Your attitude to risk depends on your position. 

A fact of life highlighted by a group of Procam agronomists in discussions at their first visit to a SPot Farm on 8 September at James Daw's (SPot Farm West).

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

'Scabby' findings and walking the tightrope at SPot Farm East

Welcome Back! 

I'm pleased to be able to report that we've had our final farm walk of the season at the Elveden Estate in what has been a brilliant first year at this site so far... and I thought it about time I got back on the blog to provide you with some interesting points of note!

But first, just to say, the efforts of the whole team involved in the programme have really generated a lot to talk about, alongside your inputs and interesting dialogue at each of the events - thank you for your critical part in the project!

Reporting on our final farm-walk then:

Visitors to the Elveden Estate’s last farm walk this season on September 1st saw how critical soil moisture can be to disease control... 

Monday, 29 August 2016

Competitive cultivation strategies: Who dares wins

Cultivation for all

NIAB CUF has conducted a range of experiments over the years on cultivation and this makes sense as a topic to investigate. 

Not everyone can choose their soils. Not all have access to water for irrigation. But all growers can manipulate their pre-planting cultivations and all aim to do the best possible job.

From 75 experiments over five years the conclusion is that 270 mm is the optimal depth for a destoned bed prior to planting, allowing the job to be done at a good speed without yield reduction compared with deeper cultivation. 

The trouble is that these results suggest that many growers don’t have things quite right, and this bone of contention can only be settled one way.

Olympics over but SPot still provides fierce competition

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Should potato crops be hardened up so they root deeper?

On August 18th SPot Farm West, James Daw’s farm, welcomed two specialist groups. 

Morning saw the ‘Next Generation’ and the afternoon welcomed the Independent Potato Agronomists. 
Facetious AHDB staff commented on the considerable difference between the average age in the morning and that of the afternoon.

Both youth and experience however, asked the same questions to Mark Stalham of NIAB CUF who was discussing irrigation:

Monday, 15 August 2016

Cover crops as drying agents - a happy accident!

We like stories of discoveries made by accident, with penicillin a prime example. 

The use of cover crops for making soil easier to cultivate isn’t a completely new idea, and it hardly comes into the penicillin category, but it was a striking finding at SPot Farm West this year which could benefit many growers.

The aim of the cover crop trial, as planned by Marc Allison of NIAB-CUF and host-farmer James Daw, was to see what reduction in nitrogen fertiliser should be made when cover crops or manure applications are made. There is a risk that manure or an incorporated cover crop could lead to excess nitrogen (N) take-up by the subsequent potato crop. 

The finding that a live cover crop at ploughing made the ground easier for all cultivations was incidental.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Didn’t they do well… now it’s your turn!

Hi there, good of you to pop by!  

With this season’s activities well under way thanks to the united efforts of Messrs Burgess, Francis, Stalham and Tomalin earlier in the year, thoughts are turning to what might be showcased next season at SPot Farm East.   

This is where you come in, what would YOU, yes YOU guys and gals, want to see at SPot East and talk about on twitter in 2017… in relation to potatoes of course!!

This year we showcased at SPot Farm East:

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The whole system approach to chitting maincrop at SPot Farm West 2016

The decision to compare chitted versus unchitted seed, in Markies and Pentland Dell, developed from a conversation between James Daw and Matt Smallwood of McCain Foods last year.

James and Matt saw chitting as offering some insurance against bad weather. 

If spring is late or autumn early, especially in relatively clayey soils, late maturing varieties are likely to be harvested in difficult conditions. 

All varieties of course have their own characteristics and respond in different ways to production processes. 

For these varieties, some considerations in particular are that Markies require a long bulking period (>120 days), followed by skin setting, and Pentland Dell can’t be planted into cold seed beds to protect against little potato disorder. 

So marketable yields in both these varieties may potentially be reduced by a relatively short growing season, making them well-suited to test potential benefits from chitting.

James Daw was also hoping to increase total yield beyond what could be achieved from unchitted seed even if the season proved to be a good long one.

Our understanding of chitting 

The principles of chitting have been understood for many years. 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Your feedback on a successful 'SPot Farm Super Tuesday' in the sunshine in Staffordshire

We've reached the end of our series of SPot Farm 'Super Tuesdays' this month culminating with the Open Day at SPot Farm West in Staffordshire. 

The event took place in the blazing sun on Tuesday 19 July with presentations at six field-based demonstrations sites and two topics indoors under some much-welcomed shelter.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

2016 SPot Farm diary dates...

Click to register...

SPot Farm East 'Super Tuesday' Success! A summary of the Open Day...

Hi there, thanks for popping in!

All back home safe and sound, from SPot Farm East's flagship Open Day at Elveden Estates.

Well, that went well, didn’t it?!? Much relieved that you liked the demonstrations and trials too!

Lord Iveagh (pictured - right), owner of the estate popped in to say a few words and wish us well, which was lovely. 

Andrew Francis, Senior Farms Manager (also pictured - left) & Phil Burgess, Head of Knowledge Exchange for AHDB Potatoes, opened proceedings explaining how the Estate operates, the SPot Farm concept and why Elveden Estates, AHDB Potatoes and the Greater Peterborough, Greater Cambridgeshire Local Enterprise Partnership are collaborating to deliver this innovative concept. 
Then it was off to the field in buses to see the trials and demonstrations!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Hi, I'm Anne, your new contact for SPot Farm West

Hello, I'd like to introduce myself. I'm the new Knowledge Exchange Manager in AHDB Potatoes and I'll be taking care of the SPot Farm West project going forwards. 

I'll be your primary contact point for developments at the Staffordshire site, but still working with the wider team as I settle in. 

In fact, some of you may be wondering what Hannah Goodwin is up to following all her efforts in the first season of the SPot Farm programme. I'm glad to be able to report that Hannah continues to lend her expertise to AHDB and the levy payers in a new role as Senior Analyst in the Strategic Insight team, part of the market intelligence department.

I've been working for AHDB Horticulture's technical team for 2½ years now, but have had chance to collaborate with the potatoes sector, particularly on recent water abstraction requirements, working closely with Jenny Bashford on a joint project which included surveying the water requirements of growers

But even before that, potatoes have been in my background as I previously grew organic potatoes commercially in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

'FAB' preparations

Preparations for next month’s open days are ramping up at quite a pace and we’re looking forward to those days where we’ll all get chance to meet and discuss the industry’s opportunities and challenges.

...on the subject of challenges, and things picking up in pace, if you’re signed up to our BlightWatch service (www.blightwatch.co.uk), no doubt you’ll have been receiving frequent alerts of Full Smith Periods of late.

With very wet and warm weather being a prevalent feature across the UK the past couple of weeks, we’re starting to see the optimal conditions for Late Blight outbreaks.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Hot topics on a sunny day at Elveden

Hi there! Good of you to pop in. The first farm walk was GREAT. We were oversubscribed with people wanting to visit, a nice problem to have. Andrew’s Tweet (@ElvedenFarmer) ‘Hot topics in the hot weather’ was a perfect description. There was a real buzz of conversation throughout the day, which was exactly what we wanted to achieve; although I have to confess by the end of the morning and afternoon sessions it wasn’t only the potatoes that had reached their wilting point!

The initial feedback has been really positive and included: ‘extremely useful, excellent and fascinating’. Levy payers seem delighted to have their own SPot Farm in the East. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

To Chit or not to Chit?

I’ve noticed a resurgence of interest in chitting over recent years. And for good reason. 
It’s one of those things that growers used to do 20, 30, 40 years ago… and they just knew it was right in many circumstances. But modern production techniques and mechanical handling just don’t lend themselves to chitting.

But in a season just like this one, with a delayed planting and reports of slow emergence in a less than an ideal spring there are huge benefits to be had from chitting some of your seed. We have a demonstration of chitting at SPot Farm West looking at its place in a processing environment.
The pictures below show what the crop looks like just now (1 June).

How will this early emergence effect the final harvest date, grading and quality? 

Introducing SPot Farm Scotland...

“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.”
That’s the confident message that Kerr Howatson, Potato Manager for Bruce Farms (hosts of our SPot Farm in Scotland) put out there when we announced this new project a little earlier in the year.

You probably already know by now that the Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm, is a practical, farmer-driven project which aims to give growers the opportunity to examine and discuss new techniques and research.

This SPot Farm Scotland project aims to be of benefit to all of Scotland’s potato growers and will run for 3 growing seasons starting formally in 2017 running through to the end of 2019.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

What a difference a week makes!

Thanks for stopping by. Reading Phil’s post last week brings home to me the differences at the SPot East site (as well as the things the two sites have in common).

The warmer day-time temperatures over the past ten days have meant the plants are beginning to venture above ground now here in the east.

Variety: Russet Burbank 
But make no mistake, it’s not all plain sailing, we face challenges in the East too! 
Clear skies and warm days have been followed by cold nights and a threat of frost, not forgetting that without significant rainfall, irrigation (which is costly) will be needed.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Soil conditions & cultivations (and change) at SPot West

Getting all the demonstration plots set up on the site at Thorpe Constantine has been…ummm… a challenge. Planting (as I suspect we all know!) has been disrupted by cold, and repeatedly wet, weather, but apart from a small hand planted area, I'm glad to be able to report we are finally there. James Daw, SPot West's host farmer, has once again done a fantastic job in what has clearly been a difficult start to the season.

From my point of view though, the difficulties have rightfully reflected the real world. 
If we want demonstrations of best practice to be tested in a practical environment then these kinds of challenges are to be expected. I suppose the question then also becomes more specific.  'What does best practice (based on available evidence) look like for that particular challenge and situation?'

Field conditions at Thorpe Constantine
Mark Stalham and his team from NIAB CUF, have planned and implemented an extensive programme of work across all five fields of the site at Thorpe Constantine.

These fields, as ever, vary - some sandy silt loam over the majority of one field (Field 33), but a heavier section of sandy clay loam lower down at the base of slope. As regular followers of this blog will know, the combination of James and Mark backed by my encouragement means we don't do things by half.

...and so naturally we have opted to site the cultivation work at the heavier end of the field!

The videos below should provide an idea of the conditions in this area of the field:

You'll need to come along to one of the upcoming events scheduled at SPot West to see the how the different cultivation treatments have ultimately measured up.  We're trying out ploughing versus non-inversion tilling, and the effects of bed-tilling and de-stoning depths.

Comparing the cost of cultivations

Some food for thought yesterday as I was approached by a colleague working in AHDB's Market Intelligence team who asked if I was aware of the enormous difference in cultivation costs between the average UK and continental grower. Single pass planting operations, without any de-stoning, were the norm for growers in North West Europe that we visited on the recent AHDB study tours. I loyally spent some time justifying what we did here and why, but left with the feeling that he makes a valid observation. The conditions here are, of course, very different, but the effects on cost can't be entirely ignored.

Finding the critical depth for de-stoning!

Meanwhile...Have you checked the depth after bedforming this season? Checking your operations more precisely is part of the best-practice message we're trying to convey here at SPot.

Unless you know what you are doing... how can you make change with confidence?

Looks like about 50 cms to me (18 inches to some of you) - Optimum in 2015 was less than 40 cm.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Weather doesn’t stop SPot East…

Hello! Welcome. Good of you to join me.

I’m really happy to be here talking to you about what’s happening at SPot East, sorry if it was not the same for you but at Elveden it was glorious sunshine and 16 degrees at the site yesterday.

After much discussion and planning, we’ve now set on at least seven demonstrations for our first year of activity here at Elveden so I’m confident there will definitely be something of interest for everyone to see and discuss at this new host farm in the East of England.

Common scab, nitrogen management, sulphur nutrition, bed profiling, irrigation efficiency, PCN management and plant health are all in the mix.

But it’s a bit early to show you much progress on these areas just yet, because as you can see, the plants have not yet begun to emerge.

Still, given recent bizarre weather patterns, it’s good to be able to report that the crop is now in and our potatoes are waiting patiently for the sunshine and warmer temperatures to develop.

We managed 16 degrees during the day yesterday - let’s hope the forecast, which expects temperatures and sunshine to rise this week, is right!

(Met Office data)

Whilst the demo sites need time to shape up, activity is still strong here at the site.

Early weed development looks like it will highlight differences in control on the herbicide site.

Soils are moist underneath with a drying surface, but once the crops get going irrigation will be necessary without significant rainfall.

I’ll update on how activities are progressing through this Blog, but of course this is no substitute for popping down in person.

We’ve got a packed programme of events already scheduled (click to see our events pages).

I should let you know that the field sites are spread across the Elveden Estate (Near Thetford, off the A11) which is extensive - so please do book your places early or contact me to talk about the possibility of a bespoke visit as we will need to arrange transport.


Friday, 29 April 2016

2016 Dates for the diary...

Click to enlarge...

‘Announcing SPot Farm (East)’

Hand planting of SPot East (Elveden) demonstration plots commenced last week...

Watch this space - where you will hear more from me about the Common Scab control, Crop Nutrition, PCN Management and Irrigation efficiency demonstrations from this site over the year.  

Hand planting of demonstration plots

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Planting halted due to hail and rain

Poor weather in the West Midlands has stopped planting on one of the SPot farm fields, 2 fields planted but the forecast is not good this week.


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Cultivations and frustrations at SPot West…

A range of demonstrations are planned for SPot West again this year. 

Lots of detailed planning has gone into determining the best fields and best place to implement the demonstrations. But it’s been cold and often wet (has anyone else noticed that?) and delays have been inevitable.

The site is at Thorpe Constantine (Near junction 11 of the M42) and consists of 
  • Block of three adjoining fields grown for processing market with an additional field a short distance away (chipping and crisping crop)
  • Long gently sloping ground, well drained, little stone content
  • 1 in 6 year rotation
  • Russet Burbank with target yield of 50-55t/ha
  • Separate field with Drip irrigation
Some progress is being made and looking around earlier in the week there will be some interesting things to see.

We have an area drilled with cover crop and some has been left green to be cultivated in. Most of the crop has been burnt off for a few weeks now. I’m worried on the effect it will have on planting but so far the signs have been good. Is it drier under the green cover crop?

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

VIDEO: Seed - size, variety, age and spacing

What are all the factors to take into account before determining seed rates? How can we devise a seed rate recommendation for a new variety?

“Most commercial seed is planted too close together, reducing marketable yield and it is actually better to have some seed left over at the end of planting than to make the full amount ‘fit’,” cautions Dr Stalham.

The full film introduces AHDB's new system for devising seed rate recommendations for newly introduced varieties. 

Watch it here.

Monday, 8 February 2016

VIDEO: Cultivation strategies

Are soils potentially being overworked? What’s the optimum depth for cultivation?

Potato cultivation is highly equipment, labour and energy consumptive, so the SPot farm sought to understand more about why the potato industry cultivates soil so intensively.

Findings from the 3 year AHDB Potatoes sponsored work, showed that when it comes to bed-forming and tilling, this can come noticeably shallower and actually maintain yield and quality whilst saving costs and improving work rates. 

The best approach for growers is a gradual move towards working shallower on their own soils” recommends Dr Mark Stalham, Research Scientist at NIAB CUF.
“Doing some controlled strips and coming up an inch in depth every year should lead to growers finding their own optimum.”

We will continue to demonstrate cultivation best practice in future years at Spot on different soil types, but for now, you can watch the full film here!

(For the background, see RESEARCHPROJECT: R459)

SPot farm on film!

NEW VIDEOS: AHDB Potatoes Strategic Potato (SPot) farm on film!

Showing real value from making change.

Explore SPot in comfort, in under 10 minutes, and with a well-earned cup of tea (if you like)…

AHDB Potatoes’ first Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm, introduced in spring 2015, is a demonstration of the latest, independent best practice in a real, operational commercial setting.
Wherever you’re based, you can tap into the results and best practice advice arising from our Staffordshire SPot Farm.

We’ve brought the farm and our findings to you with a suite of new technical videos summarising the research behind the in-field demonstrations and highlighting some of the key observations from the season.
Even if you did attend a farm walk, or joined us at an open day, with so much going on at the time, you can use these online resources to revisit the main messages in under 10 minutes.

Launched at our Winter Forums just gone, the videos provide an easy-access opportunity to explore, question and discuss the findings from the wide ranging technical demonstrations implemented this past growing season by our hosts W B Daw & Son.

Over the coming months, we’ll be pointing out the pertinent highlights surrounding the potato industry’s key seasonal considerations and first up is soils and seed. 

Hannah Goodwin, AHDB Potatoes Technical Executive
Hannah.Goodwin@ahdb.org.uk, T: 024 7647 8840, M: 07813 540 744


WATCH: We’ll be sure to prompt you as timely topics arise from the work on our SPot farm, but if you’re eager for more, we’ve already published the full suite of videos
ATTEND: There’ll also be ample opportunity to attend the location itself over the coming season, and you can register your advance interest to be sure you hear when our next Open Day or walk is set.

RESEARCH: The work at SPot builds on a wealth of previous AHDB Potatoes research always accessible at: potatoes.ahdb.org.uk. Visit the library to access best-practice guides, review seed rate recommendations, and access tools and calculators that can enhance the profitability of potato businesses.