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).

Energetic discussions

Group members had their own views and experiences to share and conversation was lively.

To demonstrate the level of engagement and interaction better than a single image could, click above to see Richard Crayston from Cumbria discussing seed chronological age with Phil Burgess, and Phil Garton-Pope from Cheshire who had questions for Mark Stalham on cultivation. (Sorry - a visual demonstration only. No audio)

Approaches to change

Christina Lankford has considerable experience as an agronomist working out of Procam’s Colchester office, mainly in Essex and Cambridgeshire.

In her work she sometimes recommends that growers make changes, for example on cultivation depth, cover crops, applications of poultry manure and nitrogen, based on experience or the knowledge arising from research. 

Any change from established practice carries an element of risk. 

She finds that when she’s talking to the owner he can make an immediate decision while other staff often hesitate, conscious of potential risk.

Business owners should consider this ‘ownership of risk’ aspect of decision making. 

It can hold back adoption of new technologies and ultimately, hold back the business.

More effort = A better job?

We have a natural tendency to feel that if someone is trying really hard they are doing a better job than if it looks easy.

Mark Stalham told the Procam group a story about how machine operators react when he enters a field. 

When looking at cultivations before planting he often visited the work in progress to check depth, using a white cane as a probe.
He found the whole field had been cultivated to a regular depth, except the most recent section, which was deeper.
The operators had seen him with his probe and assumed that making a greater effort was a good thing, so they went lower.
In doing so however they were bringing up wetter soil and often creating more clods. 

Some conversation and dialogue ensues and now the operators see him coming and still there is a change in depth... 

But now its up rather than down!

A finding from the SPot Farm demonstrations at the Daw's site - that cultivating shallower can be better in terms of savings in work rates and fuel, without negative consequences for yield and quality.

Opportunity to discuss trial results while the crop is still green

On September 22, in the morning, the final crop walk at SPot Farm West will be examining the demonstrations that have been up for discussion at previous events (chitting, cultivations, nutrition/cover crops and seed age/numbers), but this time we will have the results from sample digs and so hard data will be available in the context of seeing what the crop looks like -  an enriching experience all round.

I look forward to seeing you there (click here to register to attend - spaces limited).

Plan your own visit! Tailored group agendas invited

This visit was arranged by Procam with us in a way that supported their in-house training and development programme. CPD points were available, but perhaps even more valuable - participants could discuss specific issues in confidence. 

If you are involved in a group that you feel would benefit from this kind of bespoke visit to a SPot Farm then please contact or any of the bloggers on this site.

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.