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Elveden Farms to become research hub for potato growers

Andrew Francis, senior farms manager at Elveden Estate. Pictre: Sonya Duncan.

Andrew Francis, senior farms manager at Elveden Estate. Pictre: Sonya Duncan.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015

An East Anglian farming estate is set to become a regional research and demonstration hub, aiming to help potato growers share ideas and maximise their productivity.

The Elveden Estate, on the Norfolk-Suffolk border near Thetford, has become the nation’s second Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm – a project co-ordinated by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s potatoes division (AHDB Potatoes).

SPot Farms are a “knowledge exchange” concept designed to demonstrate the benefits of levy-funded research and development within a practical, commercial environment, through a series of demonstrations and open days.

Growers will be given the chance to see the latest precision techniques and technology in action, which can then help them make efficient use of resources on their own farms, as well as building their understanding of crop physiology.

Half of the £218,256 project costs have been funded by the AHDB, and half through a grant from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative.

The money will cover a three-year programme including expert speakers, demonstration plots and open days during the planting, growing, harvest and storage seasons – and resources to share the knowledge with a national industry audience.

AHDB knowledge exchange manager and project coordinator Jenny Bashford said: “It’s not just about bridging the gap between research and farm practice. The real value lies in stimulating discussion.

“SPot will enable everyone involved in the industry to interact, highlighting any gaps where information needs to be more available. There is also a sharing of knowledge as well as the latest research-based thinking to take back to growers’ own potato enterprises.

“Our SPot Farm hosts will help us challenge conventional working practices and, using proven research, demonstrate how potato growers can benefit from applying beneficial adjustments to commercial growing systems.”

Andrew Francis, senior farms manager at Elveden, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Elveden and the wider community. It will allow us to engage with the country’s best scientists and find ways of putting the research into practice.

“Through the knowledge exchange activities this experience will be available to all growers, and we will be able to lead change in the industry and look forward to a sustainable future.”

The Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative is run by the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (LEP) with support from New Anglia LEP, Norfolk County Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, and other local authorities.

Grants are available to organisations looking to invest in specialist equipment, supply chain development, ways to improve productivity and efficiency, and the application and commercialisation of research and development.

Mark Reeve, chairman of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP, said: “Driving forward innovation is a key focus of the LEP. I am therefore pleased to offer Elveden funding to run the SPot Farm, which will help keep the East of England at the forefront of this industry.”

Chris Starkie, managing director of New Anglia LEP said: “Norfolk and Suffolk are demonstrating their world class expertise in food and health research and development. This project is a great example of how our farming businesses are building and improving that scientific knowledge for the greater good of suppliers across the industry and consumers across the world.”

Research in the field

Through the SPot Farms, growers can learn about optimising plant nutrition, soil and water management, and planting at the best seed rate, depth and spacing for yield and quality.

During the first year of the initial demonstration farm in Staffordshire, a project exploring cultivation found that shallow bed-forming and tilling was 48pc faster than at the standard commercial depth.

The cost-saving shallow treatment resulted in a fuel saving of 5p per tonne, while maintaining yield and quality – but costs doubled when going deeper than standard commercial depth.

Opportunities to visit the SPot Farm at Elveden will be advertised at potatoes.ahdb.org.uk/events.

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