Brexit to chal­lenge UK grow­ers

New Zealand potato grow­ers face many of the prob­lems that their coun­ter­parts in the United King­dom do, such as pest in­cur­sions, in­de­pen­dent agron­o­mist John Sarup, told the Pota­toes New Zealand Con­fer­ence.

NZ Grower - - Election 2017 - Words by Glenys Chris­tian Pho­tos by Michael Bradley

But they had al­ready dealt with the is­sue of farm­ing with­out sub­si­dies.

“That’s some­thing we’re go­ing to have to face,” he said.

And Brexit presents an­other range of chal­lenges for United King­dom grow­ers when it comes to ac­cess to Euro­pean mar­kets.

In 2012, John Sarup, for­merly a farm man­ager, started up SPUD Agron­omy and Con­sul­tancy. Then two years later Rob Blades, who had pre­vi­ously man­aged new va­ri­eties for McCains, joined him. They op­er­ate in York­shire, Lan­cashire, Cheshire and The Bor­ders, hav­ing an in­flu­ence over what hap­pens on 4,400ha of pota­toes. Sarup is directly in­volved with 2,200ha of pota­toes, around half the to­tal area of the crop grown in this coun­try, and de­scribes his work as putting re­search and de­vel­op­ment into prac­ti­cal farm­ing.

“Our grow­ers are pas­sion­ate about pota­toes,” he said. “They keep do­ing it be­cause they love it.”

The av­er­age age of UK potato grow­ers is 59, and many of them crop ten­anted land.

“Many have chil­dren who want to get in­volved, so it’s my job to keep them en­thused,” he said.

Sarup said he had voted for the UK to leave the Euro­pean Union out of frus­tra­tion.

“I was fed up with Europe say­ing, jump, and the UK say­ing, how high?” he said.

The vote presents a num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties as a huge 800,000 tonnes of pro­cessed pota­toes is im­ported into the UK ev­ery year.

“It could start do­ing that for it­self,” he said.

But there would be chal­lenges around the avail­abil­ity of land, as ur­ban ar­eas spread, and also around the avail­abil­ity of wa­ter.

Sarup said the num­ber of farms for sale in the UK at present is huge, made worse by drought is­sues in the south of the coun­try.

United King­dom potato pro­duc­tion had been fairly static be­tween 1960 and 2014 at be­tween five and six mil­lion tonnes. The av­er­age yield was around 40-45 tonnes per hectare, with yield in­creas­ing to make up for the de­crease in land planted in pota­toes from 290,000ha to 120,000ha. There were 75,000 potato grow­ers in 1960,

but now there are only 2,000 – com­pared with 200 in New Zealand.

“Each grower is grow­ing a big­ger area and that is go­ing to keep in­creas­ing,” he said.

“But from March we only have six weeks to plant the potato crop so are we com­pro­mis­ing cul­ti­va­tion?”

Farm staff are hard to come by, this is an­other is­sue.

Potato cyst ne­ma­tode (PCN) is a mas­sive prob­lem for UK grow­ers, he said.

“I hope you don’t for­get about it.”

“The GM (ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion) de­bate goes on but per­son­ally I think it’s in­evitable.”

An ad­van­tage could be that land taken out of potato pro­duc­tion be­cause of PCN might be able to be re­turned to the crop with ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered re­sis­tant va­ri­eties.

New Zealand grow­ers have many more pes­ti­cides avail­able for them to use, af­ter the EU had de­cided that risk-based rereg­is­tra­tion of chem­i­cals was nec­es­sary.

“We’re go­ing to lose di­quat and glyphosate if we’re not care­ful,” he said.

Maris Piper is the most pop­u­lar va­ri­ety of potato grown in the UK, due to its ver­sa­til­ity, with the area planted in it equal to those of the next four most pop­u­lar va­ri­eties. How­ever it only has re­sis­tance to part of PCN and it could cost 440 pounds a hectare to con­trol it. Markies, the sec­ond most pop­u­lar va­ri­ety, is very late grow­ing, and only one an­other va­ri­ety, Royal, has PCN re­sis­tance.

An ad­van­tage could be that land taken out of potato pro­duc­tion be­cause of PCN might be able to be re­turned to the crop with ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered re­sis­tant va­ri­eties.

“We will never get rid of it,” he said.

Once it is de­tected there are al­ready an av­er­age of 3.8 mil­lion cysts in the soil. Length of ro­ta­tion has a big im­pact, so he urged New Zealand grow­ers to check the soil un­der their grader for any sign of it.

In 2010 the EU de­cided that more soil needed to be searched for any sign of PCN, which re­sulted in more in­stances be­ing found, par­tic­u­larly in Scot­land. Rather than search by the hectare, the Dutch con­ducted their search in square me­tres, mean­ing that they had a much bet­ter record of where PCN was. >

Pre­ci­sion farm­ing is in­creas­ingly be­ing used with Google Earth im­ages able to show where a crop is not grow­ing well in a field due to com­paction prob­lems. Sarup said such mea­sure­ment is cru­cial, and for some grow­ers rec­ti­fy­ing the prob­lem could be as sim­ple as adapt­ing cul­ti­va­tion meth­ods so they didn’t plough in the fur­row.

In the UK all fer­tiliser is ap­plied be­fore or at the time of sow­ing the pota­toes.

“We don’t have the weather to fer­ti­gate,” he said.

“And 60% of the na­tional potato crop isn’t ir­ri­gated.”

He gave the ex­am­ple of one grower, James Daw, and his ef­forts to im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity in his potato grow­ing oper­a­tion. First in 2012, he used weigh scales on his har­vester to pro­duce a very ac­cu­rate yield map which showed huge vari­a­tions across dif­fer­ent fields. He then used elec­tri­cal con­duc­tiv­ity to ex­am­ine soil types, and var­ied fer­tiliser rates and spac­ings at sow­ing, which re­sulted in a much more even yield in 2014.

Cam­bridge Univer­sity Farm then got in­volved look­ing at the depth of plant­ing and us­ing drones to gather more in­for­ma­tion on dif­fer­ences in plant pop­u­la­tions in 2015. The farm was used as a trial site with in­ves­ti­ga­tions car­ried out into ir­ri­ga­tion sched­ul­ing, wa­ter run-off, in-field green­ing, soil man­age­ment and nu­tri­ent plan­ning.

Where cover crops were used the soils were found to be in a bet­ter con­di­tion than where cover crops weren’t used.

“In some parts of Europe it’s oblig­a­tory to plant them to stop ero­sion, and were see­ing more of them in­cor­po­rated in the UK,” he said.

But there is some mis­in­for­ma­tion and grow­ers need to de­cide what they want. The crops are im­por­tant as green ma­nure and also for holding the soil open.

“But their con­trol of pests can be ex­tremely vari­able,” he said.

Some of the best seedbeds he had seen this year in the UK hadn’t been ploughed, show­ing the worth of re­cent work look­ing at vari­able depth cul­ti­va­tion which com­pared yield re­sults. De­ston­ing pad­docks in­creases crop yield be­cause plant­ing does not need to be at such a depth as pre­vi­ously.

“Deep isn’t al­ways right, es­pe­cially if the soil is wet un­der­neath,” he said.

On the Daw farm he said there was a “mas­sive” fuel sav­ing of 35% with­out cul­ti­va­tion, as well as a yield lift and an in­crease in tu­ber length. Wa­ter run-off was re­duced by ma­chin­ery adap­ta­tion which an­gled trac­tor tyres into the side of the seedbed so that wa­ter ran into and not off them. And work look­ing at vari­able spread­ing of fer­tiliser, bios­tim­u­lants and fo­liar nu­tri­tion showed an in­crease in yield of up to five tonnes per hectare.

When it comes to seed, Sarup said, sadly seed com­pa­nies didn’t give enough in­for­ma­tion to grow­ers on how to grow what they bought.

“If they have a poor ex­pe­ri­ence they won’t grow that seed again.”

But in­ves­ti­ga­tions are be­ing car­ried out on grow­ing more rows in a bed and vary­ing buf­fer zones, which at present have to be 10 me­tres away from wa­ter­courses. Seed treat­ment prod­ucts are be­ing lost but Brexit could mean that this loss slows down.

The UK is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing big is­sues with seed stor­age at present.

“Grow­ers are build­ing their own stor­age for seed so they can man­age it,” he said.

“And ded­i­cated stor­age with lots of fresh air can stop fun­gus growth.’

▴ John Sarup. ___________

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.