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Scottish on-farm research: Reductions in production costs, increased marketable yield

Potato growers Bruce Farms have been able to identify potential reductions in production costs by over £65 a hectare, while increasing marketable yield by over three tonnes. The improvements were a result of a three-year programme of trials as part of the AHDB Farm Excellence network.

Findings were revealed on Thursday (12 December 2019) as almost 100 growers and agronomists gathered at Guardswell Farm for the Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm Scotland Results Day.

The SPot Farm Scotland project, which was part funded by the Scottish Government, used on-farm demonstration sites at Bruce Farms in Meigle, Perthshire to host a series of trials on subjects including cultivation, spacing and nitrogen nutrition.

Following a successful final year, Kerr Howatson, Farm Manager at Bruce Farms, said: “We became host of SPot farm Scotland in 2016 in a quest for knowledge. We wanted to trial ways to reduce costs and improve yields and then share this valuable information with the wider industry. We have identified clear processes to follow that demonstrate cost savings and improved packable yield.

“We have learned that by reducing our cultivation processes, both the number of passes and cultivation depth, we have saved money and time and become more efficient. Our nutrition trials have shown that we can cut our nitrogen use in our Maris Piper crops. By reducing the amount of nitrogen, we have gained better crops, maintained yield and pack and saved money.”

The new targeted approach, moving away from whole field treatments, is now embedded in standard farm practice at the Perthshire farm, saving £31 per hectare on fertiliser (nitrogen) use and £36 per hectare on fuel and labour.

Dr. Mark Stalham, Head of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) at Cambridge University Farm, said: “Cultivation, spacing and nitrogen nutrition were our key themes over the last four years of trials on crops of Maris Piper.

“Overall there is a 2.6 tonne per hectare advantage from removing the bed tilling operation compared with bed tilling at 12 inches depth over the last four years. We included a preliminary cultivation trial to give us ‘year zero’.

“Despite much industry scepticism that reducing nitrogen rates would increase yield, the results show the opposite, albeit on a limited basis. The overall result of 0.5 tonnes per hectare increase over three years, from reducing the application rate of nitrogen by 32 kilos per hectare, is small but there was a saving in costs of £31 per hectare and this was combined with no loss in quality.”

Senior Knowledge Exchange Manager for AHDB, Claire Hodge, added: “On farm demonstrations allow us to take research recommendations and test how best to apply them in a commercial setting, which offers genuine difference to potato growers. We want to continue to support growers as the industry evolves, and we believe the strategic Spot farm network is the ideal forum to do so.

“The next round of the programme will see us working with potato seed producer, Jim Reid, from Milton of Mathers farm, St Cyrus, Montrose, who supplies McCain. This will allow us to focus on the issues that affect this important part of the industry.”

AHDB Strategic Potato Farms form part of the Farm Excellence programme: a network of over 80+ farms across the UK. Farm Excellence provides a channel for integrating farmers and their businesses into the wider AHDB research and knowledge exchange programmes.

A searchable list of Farm Excellence farms is available at https://ahdb.org.uk/farm-excellence

Source: AHDB. Original report here

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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