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East Anglian potato growers face ‘very difficult’ spring as wet weather takes its toll

PUBLISHED: 15:42 13 April 2018 | UPDATED: 15:42 13 April 2018

Andrew Francis with a previous potato harvest from the Elveden Estate. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

Andrew Francis with a previous potato harvest from the Elveden Estate. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015

Frustrated East Anglian potato growers have seen planting delayed due to the wet conditions this April.

Andrew Blenkiron at the Euston Estate. Picture: TUDOR MORGAN-OWENAndrew Blenkiron at the Euston Estate. Picture: TUDOR MORGAN-OWEN

Elveden Estate’s senior farms manager Andrew Francis admits it has been a “very difficult” spring.

“Even on the lighter soils the constant wet weather and generally cool and overcast conditions have had a big impact,” said Andrew, whose operation near Thetford is taking part in an important potato growing project, as levy payers’ group AHDB’s Strategic Potato (or SPot) East Farm.

“We are about seven to 10 days behind with our potato planting. This may have a significant impact on early season crop yield as our customers will still require crops for their factories by a certain date,” he said.

Onion planting was between two and three weeks behind, and parsnip drilling about two weeks behind.

“One of our battles has been unpredictable or vague weather forecasts,” he said.

“In short dry spells we have moved land using predicted forward dry forecast to dry the soil out for drilling, but have then had un-forecasted rain which has put us back to beyond square one.

“It is very hard for us and has the potential to have a significant impact on crop performance. We are going to be even more reliant on good growing conditions from here on in for the rest of the season.”

Andrew Blenkiron, estate director at the Euston Estate, near Thetford, said: “Even on our very light land it’s not going well, so it must be a nightmare on anything else. Beet and spuds are only about one third planted, onions about 80% in, so, as soon as it dries we will have an incredibly busy couple of weeks.

“Maize for the AD doesn’t really go in for a month or so yet, so plenty of time for it to dry. With a good forecast we hope to get going next week.”

But cereals farmer Glenn Buckingham, who farms at Helmingham, near Ipswich, said so far most of his work was still on schedule.

“We are behind compared to last year regarding sowing spring barley by a month, but most other work on the farm is on time, but we do now need a period of decent weather to keep on track and get the barley sown.

“We are entering the spring/summer period with better soil moisture levels than last year which is a better situation,” added Glenn, who is chair of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

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