Cultivation methods and timing are critical at this time of year to achieve good seed beds and a well-established crop.

Potato cultivation should only be carried out when the soil moisture is right as it is important to reduce soil structure damage before planting.

It is always a balancing act, judging when to get started in order to beat any weather breaks ahead, and keeping an eye on soil conditions to minimise soil damage.

AHDB is researching cultivation methods as part of its SPot farm programme. Former SPot Scotland hosts, Bruce Farms – who only grow ware potatoes – removed bed tilling from their cultivation system with great success.

Farm manager there, Kerr Howatson, started demonstrating this work in 2016 and found that reducing cultivation depths and removing bed tilling saved money and increased yield.

The standard farm treatment that had been followed every year previously yielded more poorly than those treatments where bed tilling had been removed or cultivation depths had been reduced.

After three years of running trials, it was clear to him that a ‘less is more approach’ was the way to go with cultivations, only bed tilling parts of fields where it is really needed and showing that reducing cultivations saves time and money.

Claire Hodge, senior knowledge exchange manager for potatoes at AHDB, explained: “There has been a shift in reduced cultivation amongst potato growers across Scotland as it’s a costly job and conserving soils is essential.

"The work we have been doing with our SPot farms in Scotland provided practical examples and hard evidence from our trials to support that shift, as we have shown that reducing cultivation depths can really make a difference.

“By continuing this work with our current host SPot farm – with the Reid family at Milton of Mathers, near St Cyrus – we can build on what we have already learnt and move forward with the project by replicating it with a seed potato grower this time. It also highlights that it’s not just applicable to ware growers.

"The SPot farm results be used by all potato growers as it’s a case of tweaking applications on your own farm and adjusting your approach depending on the condition of each field."

Host of the current SPot farm Scotland, seed potato grower, Jim Reid, trialled a ‘no plough’ approach in 2020. He decided not to plough in the SPot field last year because the soil was still very wet and heavy following the bad winter in 2019 and at the time it suited the conditions of the land.

He explained: “Even though we sometimes use a no till approach, I am still a ‘plough man.’ Ploughing is a highly effective method of controlling weeds, such as meadow grass and prevents the potential spread of black grass, which although not currently a problem in Scotland, could become so if we don’t remain vigilant.

“This year, we will aim to replicate with a third, or even half of the field non-inversion tillage (no plough) as we have had a very similar winter again in 2020 to the one we had in 2019.

"We will then compare the costs of cultivation and yield differences between the two areas and methods of cultivation to see if there are any significant differences.

“The key with planting seed potatoes is to have a flexible approach and be patient. Making sure the ground is ready is key before you plant and using whatever approach, be it non-inversion or ploughing, will very much depend on the ground conditions at the time.

"Use your judgement as to what will be the best approach and the best time to start planting. No one size fits all and different soil types, typography and the weather all have a part to play in the decision making process before planting.

"This will help help achieve a well-established crop and maximum yield,” added Mr Reid.