With rust and mildew about, the first beet fungicides are going on.
The open gardens went well and we had some lovely comments, although thanks must really go to the previous owners as we are only trying to maintain what they laid out.
In many things, timing is everything and, luckily for us, the moles that have since plagued us came after open gardens. We didn't see any last year – the garden flooded a couple of times so I think that kept numbers down – but now it is a bit like the Jasper Carrot sketch from many years ago – a good listen for those who've never heard it.
Like in the sketch we've been advised on various methods of deterrent including marshmallows, blue cheese, garlic, moth balls and other items put down their holes. Our moles seemed to like them all and our mole hills do indeed resemble mountains.
Persistence, attention to detail and some luck has finally paid off and we've trapped a few and are getting on top of them. But what a mess they've made.
As I said, timing is everything and having Corteva's new blight fungicide oxathiapiprolin in our armoury to tackle what could have been a large blight epidemic seems to have been spot on. It has done a great job in my view and now most programmes are back onto similar strategies we've used in the past with very little active blight in crops.
In general, most potatoes are romping away and the earliest salads have been lifted. However, in some parts of the country that suffered in the June deluges, the soils have slumped and the maincrop canopies are struggling. These are receiving foliar feeds to try and boost them and keep them going.
Many thanks to A.L. Lees, Folly Farm who were again the hosts of our Fenland Potato Demo – which went well, and we had many growers along to look at the potato cyst nematode, seed and herbicide plots. Of great interest was the AHDB stand talking about life after CIPC and storage options going forward and the issue with maleic hydrazide and stock feed. Standen were also there with a triple bed flail and will be at our demo in September (again at A.L. Lees) where we will look at flailing/topping, the dos and don'ts and other strategies for haulm management in the absence of diquat.
In sugar beet there is a bit of virus now showing in many crops. The first fungicides are going on as there is also some rust and mildew about – it remains to be seen if cercospora will raise its head.
Looking back at the 2018/19 Beet Yield Challenge (BYC) finalists, all had used three fungicides as most crops were late lifted. It is very important all crops receive at least one broad spectrum fungicide, with follow up treatments depending on lifting date and subsequent disease pressure.
Sugar beet canopies look great at the moment and it is essential we keep this photosynthetic engine green and healthy for as long as we can. The BYC result and sequential digs from last season demonstrated that, when the rain did eventually arrive to break the drought, the crops had a huge ability to put on yield and sugar well into the winter-as long as the canopies were green and free from disease.
Attention to detail and timing was very evident when we had a roundtable discussion with Mark Means last week on how he became the winner of the BYC in 2018/19. One of the overriding factors for me was the engagement and training of Mark's team on the farm and the attention to detail across the board that goes into the crops being grown. This ranged from sending the drill operator on the BBRO establishment course, to having a penetrometer in the cab to ensure there is no compaction – all combining to deliver the very high yields achieved.
This attention to detail that was in evidence too for all of the finalists in 2017 and 2018 – something we should all try and take on board.
Darryl Shailes is root crop technical manager for Hutchinsons, with a nationwide remit. He has been working in potato agronomy for more than 20 years.