Focus on the details for better potatoes
News - 18.04.23
Nick Winmill, head of potato research and development for trials specialist and crop advisers Agrii, considers the learnings of the last year.
For many potato growers, the 2022 season will be one to forget, but not for those of us with a trials programme to oversee. This may be of scant consolation to those reeling from higher energy and fertiliser costs or those who ran short of water, but good data has a value of its own.
Through the Potato Partnership (TPP), to which I am proud to say Agrii is heavily committed, we have made progress on a range of fronts. Admittedly, the advances have not been as far or as fast as many would like, but the days of leaps and bounds are behind us. Today, the mantra is one of accumulating marginal gains, or in everyday parlance, ‘good attention to detail’.
On potato cyst nematodes, the TPP has made progress towards its objective of improving the yield protection delivered by Velum Prime (fluopyram). On its own it offers 50-60% of the protection offered by Nemathorin (fosthiazate), but in combination, results improve dramatically. We believe there is still more to consider before we can say with confidence how Velum Prime should be used for maximum efficacy, so work will continue this season.
It is clear to those involved in TPP that until we find a reliable means of tackling infestations between crops, the situation will get worse, crop performance will continue to suffer and the cost of addressing the situation will increase.
The story is a similar for wireworm control. A coded product outperformed the Nemathorin control by nearly 25%, but the incidence of damage among inspected tubers was still too great for this product to be considered effective. As with PCN, improving control of wireworm is a complex story. We know even less about the wide range of species that comprise populations than we do with PCN, to make real progress we need to review what we think we know about wireworm and find the resources to fill in the gaps.
Nutrition use efficiency is an area we believe holds potential for improvement. Many of the soils that make up the UK have a high cation exchange capacity which is beneficial as it means nutrients are retained, rather than lost. Unfortunately, a positive nutrient status does not always mean freely available nutrients. Agrii-Start Release is a soil complexing agent that breaks the bind between metal ions in the soil and phosphorus molecules thereby improving phosphorus availability. Results in 2022 were inconclusive perhaps because the index 3 site was not ideal. We hope to find a more suitable site this season.
Sharing the first-year results with growers has been a joy. Across four regional meetings spanning England and Scotland, nearly 200 growers and agronomists attended. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and serves to underline our belief that such work is needed. There is still much to learn before we can claim to have made real progress on some of the most pressing of issues, but, together, we are moving forward.
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