TRIALS have shown that potato growers may be throwing money down the drill by cultivating too much.

Detailed studies from Scotland’s Strategic Potato Farm (SPot) at Bruce Farms, Meigle, have shown that not only will there be significant savings from reducing cultivations, but that there was also yield benefits from doing so.

In the trials hosted by Bruce Farms, it was shown that costs could be reduced from the £82 per ha to use the standard fare of bedform to 12-inches, bedtill of 12 inches and destoning to a depth of 12-inches; to as little as £46/ha by cutting out bedtilling and reducing the depth of destoning by two inches. A third method, with a triple bed tiller only, also saved money against the norm at £59/ha.

According to Kerr Howatson, manager at Bruce Farms: “We have been guilty of bedtilling for the sake of bedtilling. Now, we only do it where we want to do it based on field walking to identify areas which might need it.

“That means that we might only use all the standard methods on about 10% of some fields and reduce costs on the rest – and get better yields from both areas.”

He said the savings made had come about by not needing as much horsepower to do the job, from faster plough to planting times and from lower fuel use (see Table 1).

“The interesting thing was that fewer and shallower cultivations also gave us increased yield. Almost all potato growers in Scotland do the full package of cultivations, but what this work showed was that we all may have been adding cost into the system for no gain,” he added.

This was no flash in the pan result either, as the research into cultivations had been proven over three years by Bruce Farms and across a variety of environment factors, like the weather.

Similarly, the yield results were equally astonishing. From the farm standard fields, yields were 18.7 tonnes/ha, while the no bedtill format returned 20.60 tonnes/ha and the triple bedtiller only set up produced 20.8 tonnes/ha.

Packout yields from all three were very similar at 35-36%.

Table 1

Farm No Triple

standard bedtill bedtiller

Bedform 12-in 12-in -

Bedtill 12-in - -

Destone 12-in 10-in 12-in

Triple bedtiller - - 12-in

Planting costs (per/ha)

Labour £52.20 £29.63 £30.84

Fuel (inc adBlue) £29.80 £13.90 £28.37

Total £82.00 £45.53 £59.21