So far, 2019 is looking like an early spring this season, in complete contrast to the cold and wet of 2018.
Most of the shrubs and trees are showing buds in the garden and we are now probably a bit late with the pruning, but it has still got to be done. We have also seen birds pairing and some nest-building so they all seem happy with an early spring- but are we ready for it yet?
It is still very dry and with many land drains still not running and reservoirs filling very slowly in some areas, are we in for a repeat of the very dry 1975/1976 seasons? Only time will tell.
Potato seed stock is now arriving on-farm and inspections are happening at quite a pace. Most of the European-produced seed is coming in early to get here well in advance of B-Day, Friday, March 29 to make sure is does not spend time sat in a port.
Many growers are being faced with having to manage their seed earlier and for longer this season than previously was the case.
This last season has produced a lot of small seed due to the dry summer across Europe and consequently low yields means a higher percentage needing to be used for this year’s crop. The low yields from last season have also led to significant price increases of seed in some situations, further adding to the growing costs of producing potatoes this year. One of the main things we must remember with potato seed is that transport bags are not storage bags.
Newly-arrived seed needs to be inspected as soon as possible and preferably within 48 hours. The main things to look for are rots, moisture, smell and signs of chitting which may indicate less than ideal storage or transport conditions. We know that moisture around the eyes can help transmit blackleg and the lack of air spaces in bags of small seed may allow this moisture to build quicker than normal, so be especially alert with small seed stock.
I have also noticed some internal brown-ringing this season which could be diquat damage due to excessively stressed crops at desiccation time, something I have not seen much of previously, but it should not have any detrimental effect to the crop or chitting. It just does not look good and would not make a great ware crop.
Once you are happy and have accepted the seed, box it up and get air through it in a very similar way to storing ware crop and cool if possible to reduce the chitting. Many stocks arriving have already broken dormancy, so managing excessive chit length and pre-sprouting may be a challenge if the mild weather remains and no refrigeration is available.
At our Ely trial site last year we planted seed stocks, ageing them differently and de-chitting some of the seed on purpose.
The de-chitted seed was a long way behind the rest of the plots in terms of canopy development and was even behind seed that came straight out of the cold store. It's common knowledge that knocking chits off accidentally at planting can cause a large variation in emergence and canopy development as well as transmitting blackleg, but to actually see it and show the huge lag in ground cover was an eye opener for us all. So, managing chits, whether intended or not, will be very important this spring.
Beet drilling will no doubt start early, and many growers will have dipped their toes in by the end of February, with soil temperature certainly being warmer than dipping them in the North Sea.
It is always better to drill in good conditions than to wait for a specific calendar date, but let us hope the right variety was chosen and the weather is kind after emergence to limit the amount of bolting through 2019. The big story for beet this year will be virus yellows and hopefully the recent frosts will have slowed down the aphid development enough to limit the amount of infection. Time will tell.