Jubilee celebrations for Sutton Bridge potato research centre

Sutton Bridge PMB opening by Mrs Christopher Soames in April 1964 Sutton Bridge PMB opening by Mrs Christopher Soames in April 1964

Saturday, April 19, 2014
12:00 PM

A milestone in potato storage research will be celebrated later this summer at Sutton Bridge.

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It was 50 years ago that the then Potato Marketing Board’s Sutton Bridge experimental station, near King’s Lynn, was officially opened by Lady Mary Soames, now aged 91, on April 15, 1964.

Sutton Bridge was the first dedicated research centre, which was established to improve post-harvest handling of a staple national crop. Now, as part of the potato division of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, it is the Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research facility.

It now concentrates on improving the quality of produce by undertaking research into different methods of storage as part of industry technology transfer.

In the past half century, the potato industry at all stages has been transformed. The total area of potatoes planted in Britain has reduced by 45pc from 270,000 hectares (667,000 acres) to about 120,000 ha (296,000 acres) and the average area grown has increased from 10 acres to 53ha or 130 acres.

There has been a dramatic increase in average yields from 24t to 45 tonnes ha although total national production has dipped from 6.5m tonnes in 1964 to about 5.5m tonnes last year.

In 1993, East Anglia’s three counties including Norfolk accounted for 22.4pc of England’s potato area on 2,367 holdings. Norfolk’s 1,022 holdings with 13,525 ha grew about 10.4pc of national production. Cambridgeshire then had 980 holdings with 10,725ha growing 8.2pc while Suffolk’s 365 holdings had 5,019ha or 3.8pc of national production

“With greater potato yields driven by better agronomy, crop protection, fertiliser regimes, new varieties and changes in irrigation, potato storage has become increasingly important – around 3.5m tonnes of potatoes are currently stored across GB each year, in approximately 2,500 stores,” said Adrian Cunnington, who is head of Potato Council’s Sutton Bridge facility.

“Looking forward is vital. Last autumn, we launched our ‘Storage 2020’ campaign which focuses on how GB’s potato storage can be made more successful and sustainable to ensure that industry remains fit-for-purpose into the next decade,” he added.

A celebration of 50 years of potato research will take place at Sutton Bridge on Thursday, July 3.

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