Although the results of this year’s trials will still be processed after harvest, the last open day of the Strategic Potato (SPot) initiative with Bruce Farms in Meigle, saw potato manager, Kerr Howatson, outline his programme for a ‘golden plot’ which utilised the successful findings from the three-year project.

These included reduced tillage – with shallower stone separating and no bed tilling – reductions in nitrogen top dressings and soil moisture monitoring. All of which he hoped would add up to a bumper crop at a lower production price.

“Being a SPot farm has helped us to explore many aspects of crop management which are of real interest and benefit to Scottish growers – and has given us the confidence to press ahead with new ideas rather than sticking purely to perceived wisdom,” said Howatson.

He said the project had also helped him realise the importance of organic matter levels in the soil and he noted that not only did higher level of OM allow nitrogen levels to be reduced even further, but they had also produced a significant improvement in a soil’s ability to store water, a fact which had reduced demands on irrigation.

On the subject of reducing nitrogen applications, Dr Marc Allison, of NIAB, said that by reducing ‘insurance’ top dressings, producers were not only saving money but could also see an increase in yield. “Recent trials have shown that while growers often add additional N as a fairly cheap safety precaution against haulm loss and black dot, such an approach can actually reduce overall yields,” he said.

Dr Allison added that while there was a response plateau from nitrogen application, this was considerably narrower than had previously been thought – ‘hitting the sweet spot’ was important if growers wanted to avoid the risk of yield reduction or spoiling pack-out percentages.

He also warned that with a ban on the desiccant, diquat, on the cards, the tendency of N applications to keep green haulm growth going right through to harvest would be undesirable and could cause problems with its destruction and the subsequent harvesting operations.

The hunt for a new SPot host is already underway with the AHDB in conversation with several growers about hosting the next round of the programme, which is likely to be based on a seed producing unit to address the issues facing this important sector of the Scottish industry.