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Et augebitur scientia (And knowledge will be increased)

Nick Winmill, head of potato research and development for trials specialist and crop advisers Agrii, considers the role of trials in supporting enterprise performance

At its most basic level, crop performance is a function of the weather. The 2022 season will be remembered for the lack of rain, but it could just as easily be for too much. Such is the nature of farming. It is how growers, and their advisers prepare and respond to this seasonal challenge that determines how crops perform. As within all businesses, management is the single biggest determinant of success.

The recent period of extraordinarily hot weather will have accelerated the physiological maturity of crops leading to early senescence and reduced yield potential. This will be further compounded where irrigation has been restricted or not available. As if the climatic challenges of ‘Mother Nature’ were not enough, the economics of production and poor financial returns serve to further test the limits of grower resolve and resilience.

There is little any of us can do to influence prices, but there is much that good agronomy can do to manage the production risks. Through rigorous replicated trials, we test and evaluate new practices that improve production, promote functional soils and support biodiversity. This work is collectively described as ‘research and development’ and it is how as an industry we have advanced the control of weeds, pests, and diseases through the integration of various actions. We apply some or all of these to varying degrees according to the situation.

For progress to be maintained we need to ensure that the findings of research and development continue to be incorporated into commercial practice. This is the purpose of the Potato Partnership. The partnership is principally a joint effort involving James Foskett Farms, James Wrinch of East Suffolk Produce, Matt Gregory of Greenwell Farms, agronomist Graham Tomalin and Agrii. Several local growers provide additional trials sites with the support of CUPGRA while manufacturers provide new products for consideration.

At our inaugural ‘Open Session’ we showcased just two of this season’s trials, both of which are focussed on potato cyst nematode (PCN). The first, hosted by James Foskett Farms, is a stratified trial on a 100% G. rostochiensis site testing current and potential new options for control. The second, on a 100% G. pallida site, demonstrated the resistance and tolerance of a range of current and new potato varieties, again on a stratified basis with and without the nematicide, Velum Prime (fluopyram). Both trials provided highly visual differences and prompted much discussion. These will be taken through to yield with tuber size distribution and, importantly, changes in PCN population recorded.

The intention of the Potato Partnership is to identify solutions to the challenges we face today and, in the future, including those caused by the weather. We have a programme of work to support this but with the involvement of others we will broaden our understanding and increase our chances of success. This would benefit everyone in potatoes.

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