Top Norfolk grower’s potato storage secret: Use your nose.
Store managers must use their nose to achieve the best results, said award-winning Norfolk potato grower Tony Bambridge.
While computer monitoring of stores had a role, his team at B & C Farming spent more time 'smelling the store and feeling the store', he told about 100 industry professionals at Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research.
'We've positively gone away from having a modem in the farm office. The computer in my office can't smell what is going on in the store. It doesn't feel the atmosphere in the store,' said Mr Bambridge, who is chairman of Greenvale AP and also won the Potato Industry Award last November.
'For our team it is much more important to go into the store and write down the information and making sure that things are right,' he said.
Mr Bambridge, of Park Farm, Blickling, said that B & C Farming at Wood Farm, Marsham, near Aylsham, stored about 5,500 tonnes of ware potatoes through to May, June and July.
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He marketed through Greenvale AP and was a member of Vales Produce Growers' Group.
A further 4,750 tonnes of seed potatoes, which were grown by B & C, were harvested from July and August and then stored through, possibly to the following June.
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'We're based in Norfolk as a seed grower, so we're slightly unusual in that context,' he added.
As a board member of the Potato Council, he outlined his perspective on storage and especially training. When considering which crops were to be taken into store, he said his whole team had a role to play – not just as a tractor driver or spray operator.
'It is also about training everyone in the team about assessing your crop and whether it is right for storage.'
He suggested that given training, farm staff could 'rumble' samples to assess bruising, wash potatoes to assess skin finish and even use equipment to test fry colour.
'It is not rocket science. It is quite surprising how many farms are still not equipped to do some fairly basic tests,' said Mr Bambridge.
And he said prevention of even one or two rejections in a season would more than pay for the kit required.
He stressed the importance of checking that equipment was in good order – even simple aspects like servicing and cleaning condenser fans and making sure that stores were inspected by infra-red camera, available from Sutton Bridge.
From his experience, he said that having these things right was key.
'The most important thing in storing potatoes is to blow them dry. Get the air going through the crop. When you think it is absolutely dry, leave the fan on for another week.
'The most important aspect of good storage is blowing air through a crop. It is a fantastic fungicide – if the crop is dry, you desiccate the fungal spores, the bacteria, and that will be more efficient than virtually any other fungicide in the store.'
Mr Bambridge recognised that the long-term storage was costly – not just running and servicing the store but also recognising that typical losses by dehydration were in the order of about 10pc.
'In store, the crop will deteriorate and there will be an increase in the number of rots, an increase in pathogens, fungal rots and skin blemish, which will increase the loss in pre-packing and possibly deterioration in processing quality as well.'
There had to be a return for storage.
'I'd suggest that it is only in high price years where we actually see a significant and sufficient return from storing potatoes from the free market. The low-priced years and the ordinary years seldom actually give us sufficient cost recovery. Storage and marketing has to be planned hand-in-hand. When you're planning your market, you're planning your storage.'
There was an opportunity for contract storage with delivery increment, typically, from his experience, about �6 to �10 per tonne per month storage increment.
'If you're doing your job particularly well it probably does pay the cost of storage and the weight loss and gives a small margin.
'For the risk that you're taking on, you've got to be confident about what you're doing on,' he added.