Monday, 15 May 2017

Looking forward to another successful season at SPot Scotland with Knowledge Exchange Manager, Claire Hodge:

Planting is now complete on our commercial scale demo plots. We recently reported on successful cultivations demonstrations held at Bruce Farms last season, which showed that reduced cultivation depths resulted in lower costs and a higher yield. The excellent current conditions are perfect for reduced cultivations, we have used them at Bruce Farms and I would hope that this becomes standard practice.

Early signs are that our current work on cover crop use is also producing positive results. The aim when planting cover crops, in this instance, was to improve soil structure, reduce lying water over winter, and therefore make the soil easier to cultivate. While the ground did not get a serious challenge this winter, we could notice a difference between the land that had benefitted form cover crops and the land that had not. It will be interesting to monitor this as the season continues.
Overall things are going well and we are ahead of where we were this time last year. I expect there may be one or two growers who are challenged by dry conditions and looking forward to the forecasted showers over the next few weeks.

It is particularly beneficial to talk to other farmers at our events or when we are out and about. This season we are acting on advice given from local growers and are introducing a triple tiller.  The hope is that it will further reduce costs and increase yields. We will watch with interest and report on what we find.

I am looking forward to catching up with growers the Open Day at Bruce Farms on the 18th July. I am happy to contribute to discussions on the triple tiller, cultivations depths or our other on-going trial areas such as nutrition and seed rates.

We have morning and afternoon sessions available for our Open Day on 18 July, you can register for either session by clicking here 

It would be great to see you all there!

Friday, 5 May 2017

2017 season kicks off at SPot East, Elveden

Read the first blog from SPot East by guest blogger and AHDB Potatoes Knowledge Exchange Manager, Phil Burgess.

Planting has been completed on all trial and demonstration areas, other than one small area, which has been delayed in order to test our herbicide programmes to the limit and provide the best demonstration when it comes to our open day visits.

Dr Mark Stalham and his team have been busy implementing some complex studies on the timing and fate of Nitrogen. The biggest challenge has been trying to find the balance that keeps the trials scientifically robust and keeping the irrigation regimes workable in a commercial setting, but they’re all in place now, so far so good!

We all know it’s been very dry so far this spring. Which should provide a really robust test of the irrigation regimes on the full range of varieties. At least I’m pleased!

Increasing tuber numbers is a subject of much discussion at Elveden, and as the onsite agronomist the onus lays with Graham Tomalin. Graham and his team have been working hard, planning small plot trials aimed at manipulating tuber numbers. But like on most farms, they’re always asked to produce more! So this demonstration aims to show what can be achieved in both salad and processing crops.

Farm manager, Andrew Francis is as you would expect, always in the thick the action. This year he has brought a number of machines on to the farm, which are designed to reduce run-off. An area that we hope to include in the Spot farm activity this season.

So it’s all action at SPot East. See here or here 

We look forward to seeing you at Elveden during the summer. All the events for SPot farm East are listed below, to register simply click on the link.

SPot farm East - Field Walk - 22 June 2017 

SPot farm East - Open Day - Thursday 6 July, 2017 
Morning session
Afternoon session

SPot farm East – Field Walk – 3 August 2017

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Planting at new SPot West, Heal Farms 2017

Read the first blog of the 2017 season by Knowledge Exchange Manager and SPot West lead, Anne Stone:

Heal Farms in Shropshire grow 500ha per year of a range of processing varieties. 
Lodge 1 Field, on the A53 near Shrewsbury is infested with PCN and the Farms Director, Matthew Wallace, chose the crisping variety Arsenal because it is resistant to Globodera pallida, as well as to G.rostochiensis.  

Arsenal has limited tolerance to PCN, so Nemathorin has been applied with the aim of maintaining yields while varietal resistance prevents reproduction of the pest and reduces eggs left in the soil at the end of the season.

Lots of PCN – Jolly good!

A few billion potato cyst nematodes are not normally seen as a desirable soil constituent. To test and demonstrate methods of control such a feature is ideal, especially if they are uniformly distributed, so this field has become a magnet for trials. It gives a chance to compare varieties, for both their resistance and tolerance. The site will also be used to demonstrate other methods of PCN control.

The 60 acre field was prepared and planted in three days with the following stages:
  • ·   ·     Ploughing,
  • ·         Shakerator cultivation
  • ·         Bedtilling/bedforming
  • ·         De-stoning,
  • ·         Planting (with application of fertiliser and Amistar)
            Bedtiller/bedformer at Lodge 1, with Nemathorin applicator

     Planter in Lodge 1. CERC staff helped themselves to 
   some seed to plant bed ends tidily around the trial plots.
   Two of the de-stoners working in Lodge 1 on April 22nd.

A fair spread of machinery was displayed on Saturday 22nd April., Two Shakerators, one bedtiller/bedformers, five de-stoners and two planters all majestically maneuvered in a performance orchestrated by Mr Wallace.

From a distance the staff of CERC (trials arm of Harper Adams University) looked like crazed ants, scattering in all directions. Close up they could be seen running with white flexicanes and long tape measures, making 3:4:5 triangles to work out where the beds would fall, ahead of the advancing machinery. Marking out of potato experiments is usually done after the beds are in place, giving nice parallel lines. 

There was no such luxury in this case, because Nemathorin was being applied with the bedformer. The difference in a variety yield between treated and untreated with nematicide provides a measure of varietal tolerance, so Nemathorin had to be kept off the trial sites, enabling it to be applied precisely on a plot basis within the trials.

The CERC team needed to match the trials to areas in the field known to have suitable PCN counts. They measured where the beds would run, and where tram lines would be in place, meanwhile comparing with maps of PCN test results, in order to mark out before the bed former arrived. 

Pythagoras proved reliable and soon plots were marked and planting underway.

   Gary Weston, CERC mechanic, leaves his 
   machinery to help hand plant PCN control demonstrations

Life and death struggle
Read this blog to follow the fortunes of the crops in Lodge 1. Each variety has its own fight between the ravenous hunger of myriad nematodes and the defence strategies of a well bred potato.

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...