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Potato growers ‘must look in dusty corners’ to innovate, says SPot East farmer

PUBLISHED: 15:16 11 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:16 11 January 2018

SPot East conference speakers Andrew Francis of Elveden Estate with AHDB's Mark Stalham (common scab researcher), Marc Allison (nitrogen and water researcher) and Graham Tomalin (herbicides and tuber numbers researcher) at the event in Newmarket. Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

SPot East conference speakers Andrew Francis of Elveden Estate with AHDB's Mark Stalham (common scab researcher), Marc Allison (nitrogen and water researcher) and Graham Tomalin (herbicides and tuber numbers researcher) at the event in Newmarket. Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

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Researchers are continuing to make strides in helping UK potato growers to get the best crop with the least environmental impact as a nationally-significant Suffolk farm project reached the end of its second year, farmers were told this week.

SPot East conference speakers Andrew Francis of Elveden Estate with AHDB's Mark Stalham (common scab researcher), Marc Allison (nitrogen and water researcher) and Graham Tomalin (herbicides and tuber numbers researcher) at the event in Newmarket. Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSSPot East conference speakers Andrew Francis of Elveden Estate with AHDB's Mark Stalham (common scab researcher), Marc Allison (nitrogen and water researcher) and Graham Tomalin (herbicides and tuber numbers researcher) at the event in Newmarket. Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

Elveden Estate farm manager Andrew Francis said forward-thinking growers had already made innovations and were now looking for gains in less obvious areas to boost yields while working more sustainably as researchers revealed latest findings from the project.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), which chose the estate near Thetford to become its Strategic Potato (or SPot) Farm for the east, hosted a farmer workshop event at Rowley Mile race course showing the progress researchers had made at Elveden across a diverse range of trials, including ones on common scab, nitrogen and irrigation, herbicides, tuber numbers and runoff.

“It has been encouraging the amount of things we have been able to learn in quite a short space of time. Some of the things we were hoping to discover and find have actually come through. What has been good is the demonstrations and trials work have backed up where we thought we were and brought us new learnings as well,” said Andrew.

“Looking in the dusty corners is how we put it. The quick wins, the people attending this event will already be on it.”

It was in these less obvious areas growers were looking for “the last wins we can have”, he said.

The trials being carried out on nitrogen in the soil had given them “a 3D understanding” of how it might move in his particular soil profile, which is light and fast-draining, he explained. It had also been interesting to see how even a slight slope could cause significant runoff issues, he added, while mitigation techniques they had tried out had had some “real benefits”.

But they were also thinking beyond “the soil we put our spuds in” to some of the wider implications, and “learning the unlearnable”, or finding metrics to measure things which were more difficult to measure, around sustainability of the soil and the wider environment, he explained.

Knowledge exchange manager Graham Bannister said it had been a “very busy year”.

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