A closer look at Bannister Farms with Farm Manager Tom Macfarlane - Velcourt

The business I manage covers approximately 600ha – comprising of 130ha Potatoes, 240ha Wheat, 60ha Sugar Beet, 40ha Vining Peas, and 130ha Vegetables.

The potatoes are grown for the pre-pack market and put into long term storage to supply the major supermarkets up to July the following season. The grade 1 silt along with irrigation allows us to get near-perfect skin finishes on difficult to grow varieties such as Maris Piper and Desiree.

A number of other white varieties are also grown such as Lanorma, Nectar, and Melody. The farm rotation is based around the potato crop every 7-8 years to prevent a build-up of soil-borne pests. Wheat follows root crops usually drilled in late winter and the sugar beet allows us to control the volunteer potatoes and broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are rotated around the farm.

Each growing season throws up different challenges; in 2018 the very wet, late cold spring also known as ‘the Beast from the East’ produced snowdrifts and temperatures not seen for decades in this part of Lincolnshire so close to the coast. The adverse spring delayed all plantings by 4-6 weeks, which then was followed by a drought and extreme temperatures experienced in June and July.

Potatoes require a temperate climate and will shut down with temperatures in excess of 25°C. Irrigation is limited and can only supply approximately 30% of the potato area which is focused upon the Maris Piper and Desiree varieties that are more susceptible to common scab and adverse conditions.

The continual loss of active ingredients used in the production process also causes for concern, not only in the fields but also in the storage of the potato crop. This will inevitably have yield and marketing implications whilst we continue as an industry to find alternatives for the key products which we have been so used to using.

The outlook for the current season is also a changing situation; before the two months’ worth of rainfall in the space of four days, everything was looking full of potential. The dry winter had created near-perfect soil conditions and allowed all the crops to be planted in a timely manner with the aim to achieve a full canopy before the 21st June.

The irrigators had been very busy and the speculation of another 2018 summer was looming with even drier starting conditions. Within the ‘blink of an eye’ in mid-June, we recorded 140mm of rain in 4 days and the majority of the farm was underwater. The grade 1 silt is an ideal medium for growing nearly any crop but it is of a fragile nature and has to be carefully managed, and is very moisture retentive, which can sometimes be its downfall!

The potato and veg sectors are exciting places to be involved in, ever-changing both from an end user’s requirement profile whilst working in a more extreme climate, input costs are rising and tools in the toolbox are diminishing. I think the conventional growers are going to have to look closer at what their organic neighbours are doing, cherry-picking what will work best for them, and striving to improve one’s attention to detail!

The next step to make a positive change...