Graeme Skinner, independent potato agronomist and director of Provenance Potatoes, said it had been one of the most difficult seasons he could remember.
Potato growers are starting to lift a crop that has weathered difficult conditions and is being sold into an uncertain market. Most potatoes were planted in very good conditions as the wet winter gave way to a drier spring just in time. But it was one of the coldest April’s on record, followed by a very wet May and then a mixed summer with some heat but plenty of rain. Kent-based Graeme Skinner, independent potato agronomist and director of Provenance Potatoes, said it had been one of the most difficult seasons he could remember, with one of the biggest issues the lack of sunshine this summer. “The first two weeks of June were hot and sunny and then the rain fell and we have a lot less sunshine than normal ever since,” he said. “In some places we are seeing yields 10-15 tonnes/hectare behind where they should be.” With growers now burning off crops, yields are locked. Meanwhile quality is reasonable, although growers have had to apply regular blight sprays to prevent disease spread and wireworm was also a problem, added Mr Skinner. He also said that making sense of this year’s variable conditions has been made more difficult by inaccurate weather information. The situation has been less difficult in Lincolnshire, according to agronomist Simon Faulkner, of SDF Agriculture, but there have been and remain challenges to complete the growing season along with a lot of potato crop variability.
“Some yields appear to have potential when you do a trial dig and in other place yields almost seem to be going backwards,” he said. “In many places the soil moisture deficits [SMD] are rising and we are seeing increases in dry matter. Some growers have held off irrigating a few weeks ago expecting more rain than actually fell and where rain has not materialised, those crops would have benefited from water to bulk them up.” He also reported a lack of sunshine, with shortening days and natural senescence limiting the potential for late-season growth particularly in the second early varieties.