Potato producers dig in to cut costs and boost yields

Scotland's tattie growers could save money and improve both their yields and income by reducing bed tillage and the depth of their de-stoning operations, a commercial-scale trial has shown.

Farmers could make big savings by changing their approach to tilling. Picture: Craig Stephen
Farmers could make big savings by changing their approach to tilling. Picture: Craig Stephen

Putting recent research findings to the test showed that by moving away from a traditional catch-all approach and adopting reduced cultivation techniques growers could save close to £30 a hectare establishing their crop and gain an extra 11 tonnes a hectare of marketable crop after dressing out – all while dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of their operations.

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Speaking ahead of an Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board potato meeting yesterday, Claire Hodge, the facilitator at Scotland’s Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm, said that both researchers and growers had been surprised by the financial bonus which adopting this new approach could bring.

Admitting that the results were not part of a replicated trial, she said that the test drills had been conducted in a commercial situation and had shown the benefits of putting research into practice.

She said that similar trials carried out down south had also shown benefits, although not of the same magnitude as the trial at Bruce Farms, based near Meigle in Perthshire, host to the Scotland’s SPot farm.

“Ironically it was felt that the reduced tillage idea wouldn’t work as well in Scotland as we tend to have more stones and often wetter soils,” said Hodge.

However, looking at a number of different approaches to cultivations, when compared to the standard farm practice of bedforming to 12 inches and then bedtilling and de-stoning to the same depth, missing out on bedtilling and destoning to only ten inches not only saved £28.50 a hectare but also increased saleable yield from 30 tonnes a hectare to 41 tonnes a hectare.

Hodge also added that shallow de-stoning could result in workrates being improved by 20-40 per cent, stating that this gave greater opportunity for soils to be cultivated closer to their optimum soil water content – a move which reduced compaction rates.

She said that while it was still crucial that proper seedbeds were created, growers could benefit by taking a more targeted approach to this procedure and in targeting ­different treatments to different areas of a field, depending on what was required to create the right conditions, rather than a blanket approach of carrying out costly procedures across whole fields.

Phil Burgess, head of potato knowledge exchange at the AHDB said that the results were an excellent example of the benefits which could be gleaned by applying the findings of research projects to the commercial world:

“Not only did it show that the downside of farmers indulging in what can only be described as ‘recreational tillage’ but the whole idea behind the SPot initiative is to ensure a two-way movement of knowledge and ideas between researchers and growers.”