Planting green manure cover crops over the winter, prior to potato cropping, could save growers significant costs with reduced fertiliser inputs and enhanced organic matter to improve soil quality, according to ADAS Senior Soil Crop and Water Researcher, Dr Martyn Silgram.

    Furthermore, such green manures can be more effective at reducing soil loss via erosion than overwinter stubbles, he reported.

    Dr Silgram will present the latest research developments, and the practical advice that will enable growers to put the ideas in practice, at the ADAS/Syngenta Progressive Potato Farming Conference and Exhibition next month (22 November 2012).
    He has calculated growers could save up to £20/ha in nitrogen in the potato crop from nutrients released back into the soil by green manures, with a further £40/ha worth of N contributing to soil organic matter over the medium term. A range of innovative management options have been assessed at sites in England and Scotland, with valuable new information to be presented at the conference.
    The conference presentation will also highlight evidence of soil nutrient loss this year through leaching during the incredibly wet spring, which so disastrously delayed potato planting and disrupted the season.  “Protecting soil reserves is essential for all potato growers, both economically in the search for more cost-effective production, and legally to comply with soil management plans,” he warned.

    “The techniques that are being developed will help growers conserve nutrients, and cope with the extremes of weather that are becoming more commonplace. It is vital growers are aware of the risks, and the opportunities to save costs and reduce losses,” he added.
    Dr Silgram’s research has also identified ways to conserve water loss from potato fields in a more typical season. During 2011, run-off losses totalling up to 18% of rainfall or costly irrigation were observed down stone rows in potato crops. Novel management techniques successfully reduced these losses to just 1%, conserving water in the potato bed and avoiding erosion and runoff down stone rows - which prevented fertile topsoil from being lost from fields. The cost-effectiveness and practicalities of alternative techniques will be revealed at the conference.
    The Potato Conference and Exhibition, organised in partnership with the Potato Council, is to be held at Newark Showground, Nottinghamshire. The one-day event will give progressive potato farmers an essential insight into the new developments in agronomy, equipment and application, along with business tools necessary for the successful future direction of their businesses. The event is registered for both NRoSO and BASIS CPD points.