The current state of the potato harvest in 2023 has been met with significant challenges, as reported by Teagasc. A primary concern is the slow progress due to persistent poor weather conditions, with an estimated 20-30% of the national main crop yet to be harvested. The south and east regions of the UK are particularly affected, experiencing similar difficulties to those in the Netherlands.
The prevalent issue of waterlogged soils has severely impacted the speed of harvesting, reducing it to 1-2 km/hour in most cases. This has led to widespread instances of soft and pink rots in crops, especially in areas with a high water table. Crop specialists advise avoiding these waterlogged areas to prevent further complications and damage to equipment.
Potato growers are advised to store crops from high-risk areas, such as tramlines and wet headlands, in separate boxes for easy access if needed. The dropping temperatures during the season will further complicate the drying and curing processes, increasing the risk of gangrene.
Growers are encouraged to reduce physical damage through constant monitoring and by taking samples from various steps in the harvesting process for daily damage assessment.
In Northern Ireland, the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) highlights the exacerbated challenges due to record rainfall in October following a wet summer. Leigh McLean, a CAFRE advisor, notes the limited options for growers, suggesting they mark out waterlogged areas and keep these potatoes separate from those harvested from drier areas.
Attention is also needed for already harvested stocks, with advice against grading out rotting potatoes to prevent spreading infection. Ventilation systems are recommended for drying and mummifying at-risk potatoes.
Growers should take samples from all stored potato stocks and place them in a hot box to accelerate the detection of potential infections or damage, aiding in the assessment for long-term storage or prioritizing stocks for quicker marketing.