Potato farmers spot potential in new techniques

Andrew Francis speaking at the SPot event at Elveden Estate.

Andrew Francis speaking at the SPot event at Elveden Estate. - Credit: Archant

More than 120 farmers and agricultural professionals were at the Elveden Estate to look at how cutting-edge research is making a difference to its potato growing operation.

The estate is one of four farms selected by farm levy-paying organisation AHDB Potatoes last year to become a Strategic Potato (SPot) farm where new techniques prove their worth by being taken out of the lab or the field trial and tried out on a commercial operation.

The hope is that these will then be rolled out across UK potato farms, improving their productivity and performance.

Thursday's event was the first open day of the year at the 22,500 acre Suffolk estate, which lies in the East Anglian Brecks near Thetford.

The SPot scheme started in 2015 with one site, which became three last year and increased to four this year. The aim is to stay on each of them for three years to try to bridge the gap between science and commercial reality.

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'We have four sites this year of which this is the biggest. This has got six areas of demonstration we are looking at,' said Phil Burgess, head of knowledge exchange at AHDB Potatoes, who is overseeing the SPot programme.

'AHDB funds a large amount of research into potatoes and potato production. The idea of this is to put it out onto commercial farms.'

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Andrew Francis, senior farms manager at Elveden, was 'at the top of his game', he said, in terms of potato growing.

Mr Francis said the demonstration areas were going well.

'As with all these things, as you keep going forward you are constantly refining. Some of the topics we were looking at last year we are building on this year.'

They had made particular progress around areas such as irrigation as a result of the SPot status, he said.

Visitors to the open day were given first-hand advice from experts across the industry, including Dr Mark Stalham of NIAB CUF, who discussed irrigation, Dr Marc Allison who talked about in-season nitrogen requirements, and Graeme Tomalin, of Vegetable Consultancy Services Ltd, who looked at herbicide products and suitable substitutes.

Visitors also got a chance to see a unique demonstration aimed at reducing run-off.

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