Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Water, water, not everywhere  – water use and conservation at SPot East this season

By Teresa Meadows, KE Manager, SPot Farm East

With the hot, dry weather experienced across the country and in particular in East Anglia, thoughts at the first SPot East meet of the 2017 season turned to the mitigation of the impact of the dry weather on the potato crops and the social responsibility that comes with managing irrigation.

Andrew Francis, Farm Manager at Elveden Farms, takes water seriously and that is water in all respects. Andrew manages everything, from the accurate timing of water to the crop, through to ensuring that this water is used efficiently to minimise risk of common scab and does not cause soil erosion and diffuse pollution through loss of N or other actives from the site.

Of the five demonstration areas at SPot East for 2017, three are concerned with water use. There is more detail on each below:

N and Irrigation

Developing the findings of the trials that took place at Elveden Estate last year is the focus of this demonstration in 2017. Key questions include:

• What is the best rate of N to use to maximise efficacy of take-up and reduce loss of N through the soil profile? 
• What irrigation scheduling should be used in order to avoid drainage events?  
The replicated trials are beginning to show the effects as the season starts.

At the field walk on 22nd June, there were differences in colour between the trials beginning to show between the standard (18mm at 18mm deficit) and over-watered (25 mm at same deficit) demonstrations.

• Will this difference develop through the season?
• Can we use remote sensing applications or aerial technology to look at how this difference develops?

Follow the blog to find out more as the season develops.

The sensors through the soil profile will also show how the N has moved through the profile and whether that is related to irrigation or rainfall events through the season.   Ideally, the data from this trial will allow for a more predictive system to be developed, answering many potato growers’ burning question of…”do I need to top up after this heavy rain?”

One treatment in this trial has also received only 160kgN/ha.   Even for this late variety, Brooke, there is the thought that this might be insufficient to get it through to the end of September.  However, will further N need to be applied for yield later on in the season?   There is the possibility that this lower rate might compromise longevity later in the season, though it does not appear to have had an effect on expansion to-date.  A decision on whether to top-up this base amount will be made in early July.

Common Scab Control

2017 looks to be a ‘good’ season for testing irrigation regimes and their link to common scab control!  Building on the work at SPot East last year, this year a range of varieties are being used to look at two different irrigation treatments for scab control to find the ideal irrigation response on different soil types per variety.   The two treatments which are being trialled at SPot East this year include:

 1. Standard: 15 mm doses at 12-15 mm soil moisture deficit
 2. Infrequent: larger (25 mm) doses every alternate application of ‘Standard’

Owing to the shorter emergence period in 2017 compared with 2016, this season is looking likely to require a shorter scab control period than the normal 4 weeks for maincrop varieties.    This highlights the essential need to know your emergence dates and tuber initiation timings.

Attendees on the June Farm Walk asked: “When is your scab period over?”  Dr Mark Stalham shared that this is typically when the majority of the crop reaches 35-40mm in diameter, then the risk is significantly reduced.    The recommendation is to ensure that the soil in the ridge is wet from 1 week to 3 weeks after tuber initiation, since this is the critical period when pathogen populations build up rapidly in dry soils.  Irrigating outside of this critical period will still improve scab control in most varieties but the key target period should be kept in mind in hot weather and when irrigation application capacity is stretched.

Run-off Trial

The desire to keep soil and water in the field has led to a partnership being formed between a large range of organisations this year, to look at ways to ensure no diffuse pollution occurs when growing a potato crop.   With the Elveden Estate situated in the Cam and Ely Ouse catchment and with a number of Safeguard Zones across the Estate, ensuring no diffuse pollution takes place is a key consideration for Andrew and the team.

Using a field with a 4° slope on the Elveden Estate, three pieces of machinery have been trialled this year to act as tramline disruptors and contain water between the rows and allow for filtration back into the soil.   The Creyke, Wonderwheel and Briggs machines have all been trialled in two locations – one that has had controlled wheelings (only had the de-stoner and planter through) and another that has been trafficked four times to mimic the sprayer passes.

These have then also been irrigated to two different ways – firstly with an intense boom event (18mm single pass) and the second with a rain gun (18mm but over a longer period of time).
Early signs of this work look like the treatments are inhibiting the flow of this water down the slope – come along to our Open Day on 6th July to see the treatments in action under irrigation and compare their effectiveness.

Keep an eye out for the next blog post, looking at the results as they develop from our herbicide programme post-linuron and manipulating tuber numbers trial.

Hope to see you on the 6th July at our SPot East Open Day,
Teresa Meadows
AHDB Knowledge Exchange Manager

Monday, 12 June 2017

Demonstration programme at #SPotEast 2017

I’m Teresa Meadows and I am a Knowledge Exchange Manager for AHDB in East Anglia. This year, I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with Elveden Farms on the SPot Farm East initiative. I typically work within the Cereals and Oilseeds sector and so I am looking forward to being involved in SPot East and seeing what we can learn from a different part of the arable sector.
Spot Farm activity at Elveden this season
This season we have expanded some of the work we were doing last season and brought in some new focus areas for the trials and demonstrations.
Farm Manager, Andrew Francis, is interested in and has supported the areas being demonstrated this year as they are all relevant to the long-term sustainability of the Elveden business.  And if they’re important to him then you will probably find they’re relevant to you and me as well.
The direct relevance of the SPot East trials for growers and farm businesses, combined with a ‘can do’ innovative attitude is what the initiative is known for and I’m really looking forward to sharing the outputs of this research with you and enjoying the challenging discussions.
This year, the demonstrations will include:
Potato common scab control
This trial will build on the work last year and explore the latest knowledge of irrigation requirments to control common scab with minimal resourse in a challenging environment.
Nitrogen use efficiency under differing irrigation regimes

This was an area of great debate last year. There were many different perspectives on the approproiate nitrogen rate and how effectively it was used.    This year, the trial is looking at applications of N (220kg N/ha) applied in three ways (standard split N, all in the seedbed and placed N) along with different irrigation regimes (standard and over-watered) to see which is the most effective for N uptake in the plant and the minimum losses through the soil profile.   N sensors are in place across the trial to track N movements through the soil and the results will be shared as to the best combination from this research. 

Herbicide demonstration
This is a large scale demonstration of different residual herbicide programmes as applicable to ca. 20 different potato varieties. The demonstration has been redesigned from last year to explore the effects on the potato crop as well as the level of weed control.   With the imminent loss of the widely used residual herbicide, linuron, this trial will be important for future planning future herbicide programmes.  There’s bound to be something for everyone here.

Manipulation of potato tuber numbers
Producing the correct crop specification, including tuber size is essential for grower profitability.  This demonstration, new this year, is looking at ways of manipulating the number of tubers per plant in three different varieties.

Reducing soil run-off and associatated pollution.
We’ve teamed up with a range of partners to look at ways to minimise soil run-off from potato production.   An important aspect of farming within the Cam and Ely Ouse river catchment on the Elveden Estate, this trial will look at ways to minimise diffuse pollution and prevent in-field soil movement.  The tramline disturbance treatments have been applied and it looks to be a really interesting demonstration and trial. Collection and assessment of the soil run-off for each treatment will start soon and we look forward to sharing the results with you.

SPot Farm East Events
Please come along to our events over this season – click on the links below to book your place:

22 June, SPot (East) Elveden Farms, Suffolk - Field Walk
6 July, SPot (East) Elveden Farms, Suffolk - Open Day
3 August, SPot (East) Elveden Farms, Suffolk - Field walk
7th September, SPot (East) Elveden Farms, Suffolk - Field Walk

And if you have a group that might be interested in arranging their own visit to the trials at Elveden Farms, then please do get in contact with me on 07387 015465 or at:
 Looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible over the coming season,

Teresa Meadows

Friday, 2 June 2017

Varieties, cattle and experimental design, it’s a busy demo field at SPot West

Knowledge Exchange Manager, Anne Stone has the latest from Heal Farms

A month after planting, emergence of most varieties is now nearly complete, though Royal has been rather slow to come through. There’s a slight metallic click across the field as irrigation pipes are fitted together, but more prominent is the sound of the resident cuckoos here at Heal Farms.

PCN and key processing varieties

The main demonstration at SPot West 2017 explores the tolerance of and resistance to Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN). 

Farm Manager, Matthew Wallace chose Maris Piper and Maris Peer varieties as part of this demonstration as they both have a commercial interest at Heal Farms. 

Resistance to
Resistance to G.rostochiensis
Maris Piper

Maris Peer

Not resistant
Data from breeder

Improving the PCN calculator
On the AHDB website a calculator can be found, to predict numbers of nematodes and guide planting and treatment decisions. This calculator could be more useful if the model in the background contained better information on:

·         variety tolerance and resistance,
·         effect of Brassicas in the rotation,
·         effect of action taken before the crop; nematicides, trap crops, biofumigation

Harper Adams University has a separate experiment at SPot West, which forms part of a SARIC (sustainable agriculture research and innovation club) project to improve help the PCN calculator.

Bill Watts, a Research Associate at Harper Adams University manages the field experiment.

Bill’s knowledge of biofumigation will be familiar to those who visited SPot West at James Daw’s ilast yearor you may recognise him as the star of AHDB’s biofumigation video. You can view the video by clicking here

This year Bill is helping to systematically assess PCN tolerance of the most widely grown varieties of potatoes.

Which statistics are best for PCN?
Trial design is not a topic   that would usually make our hearts beat faster in excited anticipation, however the SARIC trial will be set out in a neat way to tackle a problem PCN trials often face.

Nematode numbers vary across a field, sometimes with ‘hot spots’ which sees dramatic changes over a short distance.

The AHDB trial in the same field has four replicates of each treatment, randomly allocated within blocks, each next to each other in a row across the field: 1,2,3,4.

The SARIC trial will use ‘stratified blocks’. Each block will be of plots which are not necessarily next to each other, but which share similarity in numbers of PCN eggs. So the varieties will be tested fairly against each other.

Shocking egg numbers
When Bill counted egg numbers on his plots the results were a nasty shock, both to him and to Heal Farms. They ranged from 28 – 304 eggs per gram. The four blocks are linked to 

PCN density:

0 - 75eggs/g
75 -150 eggs/g
150 - 225 eggs/g
225 eggs/g

It will be a test of tolerance under really tough conditions.

PCN experiment has to fit in with calving
On April 22nd Bill Watts was busy. He had spent the night at home with a cow struggling to calve, came to mark out the trial, then rushed back home to help with calving again.
As you can see, all ended happily

On May 15th when quietly working in the field, sowing trap crop seeds, I looked up in surprise to see a group of  eight young cattle, which had broken into the field. I tried to encourage them away from my working area, which of course was more interesting to them than anywhere else. They followed me steadily for a while, then abruptly turned and rushed right through the trial!

Fortunately It didn’t do much harm.

On a more serious note, the Invasive Species Compendium by CABI reports that PCN cysts can pass unharmed through the guts of animals. Anecdotal evidence from this country suggests that places where cattle have dunged heavily after feeding on PCN infected potatoes become new hot spots of infection

Come and see for yourselves.
 Our first field walk is planned for next week, Tuesday 6 June: Where you will be see the latest from our PCN trials and hear first-hand knowledge from Dr Matt Back, who will be on hand to answer all of your question.

If you’re interested in the this event, you can register by clicking here