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Potato crop hangs on better weather

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: September 06, 2012

SPUDS: Reuben Collins.

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IT is tough, but it is not a disaster… yet.

That is the progress report from the region's potato ambassador as growers around the South West grapple with the effects of the weather.

Farmers from North Devon are among scores of growers hoping that a decent spell of sunshine will soon appear.

The crops need a longish dry period and warmth into autumn to stop a difficult year turning into a total wipeout.

The South West's member of the Potato Council, Reuben Collins, farms 130 acres of mainly second earlies and main potatoes.

He spends much of his spare time promoting the staple that his family has grown for four generations.

He said: "The weather has been horrid, wet and unusually dull.

"We've had it wet before but this has been particularly wet and cold so things have been incredibly slow to grow. And because of the wet weather blight has been a major issue this year.

"Ground conditions for putting any chemicals on the crop and then for harvesting have made it a struggle."

The region's potatoes tend to be earliest from the south of Cornwall, with Devon fields producing second earlies and main crop and Somerset raising the mains.

Like any serious potato grower Reuben has to watch the crop carefully, checking the progress of the plants, monitoring soil conditions and the weather, and ensuring that the potatoes have just the right balance of water and nutrients.

He uses specially designed harvesters to lift them carefully from the ground and limit any damage to the potatoes.

The harvesters are equipped with delicately sprung conveyor belts and netting to soften the potatoes' fall and to minimise any bruising when they are being packed into trailers.

He explained that this year planting had to be done in two separate periods.

"March was pretty reasonable but usually we'd have carried on into April and the beginning of May.

"But this year we didn't set foot in the fields in April hardly so we only finished planting on May 22 which is very late here.

"When that happens nature usually gives us a summer to make up for it, but so far it hasn't happened.

"The crop is growing very slowly and as a result we will be harvesting late.

"It depends on the autumn. Fingers crossed we can get a good spell of weather in October or even November. It might rescue things a bit."

Reuben said that yields seemed to be down as well as having to be harvested late.

"Everybody is a couple of weeks behind. It might cause no problems if we get a good spell of weather.

"It's been a testing time but it's all to play for yet. It's not a disaster, not by a long chalk."

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