Potato farmers set to dig deep as scheme for growers moves to new host in Suffolk

From left, David Wilson (AHDB), James Foskett, Mike Shapland & Michael Welham (AHDB Potato Board mem

From left, David Wilson (AHDB), James Foskett, Mike Shapland & Michael Welham (AHDB Potato Board member) Picture: AHDB - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk based potato grower is set to help growers battle the challenges ahead as the sector faces a critical year.

James Foskett Farms Ltd at Woodbridge takes up the reins as AHDB's Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm East host on September 1. Potato farmers face many difficulties, including the loss of herbicide options and water availability.

The appointment comes following the end of the three-year programme at Elveden, which will continue to host a number of events as part of a transition period.

MORE - 'Wake-up call' as East Anglian vegetable crop yields and quality hit by heatwaveJames Foskett farm manager Mike Shapland, said: "We offer a good portfolio of soils and crops and are constantly striving to make improvements, so we really feel like we've something to offer the industry.

"The loss of actives such as diquat obviously poses a big challenge for growers. We need to develop other strategies for haulm (plant stem) destruction.

"We heard really good things from other growers about the Strategic Potato Farm programme at Elveden. We are pleased to be able to work with Andrew and his team there, and with AHDB, during this transitional season, before hitting the ground running as hosts in our own right."

Andrew Francis, of Elveden, said being a SPot host was "as rewarding as it was challenging".

"As our contract came to an end, we held meetings about ways we could stay involved with change and innovation in the industry.

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"We are proud to be part of a forward-thinking community of growers and supply chain. Being part of a programme of events as we hand over to James, Mike and their team moves the SPot East programme to the next chapter"

The open days at Elveden and James Foskett form a series of events for growers in the East of England this year. They will be centred on topical issues, such as dealing with chemical loss and smart use of water.

Tim Isaac, head of arable knowledge exchange at AHDB, said: "This year is a critical one for potato growers. It is their last with Diquat, probably their last with CIPC, and many in the East are starting on the back foot when it comes to water availability.

"The SPot programme is designed to help growers make change, and as at our established farms in Scotland, the North, West and South, we will be tackling these key issues via a range of demonstrations, many of which were started in previous seasons.

"The first year of a new project is mostly about baselining and establishing a link with research. By running events this season across both farms, our new hosts will be able to pick some of this work this season - while we tackle hot-topics at dedicated events."

James Foskett Farms will host an event on July 18, before the start of its tenure. It is a family-owned business on predominantly sandy loam soils over 900 hectares. Along with potatoes, the rotation includes onions, cereals and sugar beet among its arable crops. The farm also has an organic enterprise comprising carrots, butternut squash, green peas, onions and carrots.