Visiting UK agronomists make the most of Spring & Summer visits here

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By Gemma Carroll, PNZ Comms & Engagement Officer.

John Sarup is spending his 2nd Summer in a row assisting the NZ potato industry with inspection processes, general agronomy on farms and with a particular focus on seed production. He will also be speaking at our field walks in February.

A former grower and expert in potato agronomy, John is working alongside inspection agencies, NZ agronomist Roger Blyth, PNZ’s Iain Kirkwood and Paula Llleras, initially in Canterbury, followed by a visit to Pukekohe.

John sees the opportunity as a learning process for both himself and NZ industry. Working alongside agronomist Roger Blyth has been particularly exciting, as he’s seen the huge successes with yields in Canterbury which are looking likely to be world class. Sunshine, water and good soils are the advantage here, though he sees where we can improve in managing nutrition and seed quality. He suggests we consider using younger generation seed for ware growers (Gen 4-5, single cut rather than multi cut), but that the current structure of our seed industry may limit this at this stage.

The other area John has been learning from and sharing UK knowledge and processes on is nitrate leaching, now a hot topic in NZ, back in the UK rules are even more stringent.

He has observed NZ generally has good water management on farms where potatoes are concerned, but there is a need for more knowledge of risks and issues. He is expecting the North Island may be more likely to have nitrate runoff problems due to soil type and sloping land. Canterbury has good soils and flat terrain which he feels may minimize the issues for potato growers. This remains to be seen, as industry works through the raft of changes and restrictions proposed by Regional Government, soon to be in the hearing process. It is hoped soil types and terrain will be accounted for by Plan Changes and regulations.

At the NZ Field Walks this year John Sarup will speak about the use of Spot Farms in the UK. These are demo farms for research in practice. The UK has 5 spot farms, scattered about the main growing regions and the programme is managed by sub-committees comprised of farmers, agronomists, potato board members and researchers. The R&D demonstrated or trialed is sometimes specific to area and sometimes they are nationwide trials.

PNZ are heading in this direction too, most recently with regional trial sites for the Emissions Project PNZ-79, in part measuring nutrients in soils and plants.

As far as climate challenges go, the UK is getting more extreme weather and their industry has already seen losses due to these weather events, with some crops not even making it out of the ground due to waterlogging.

In comparison John says Canterbury weather appears to be a bit more predictable and there are plenty of other things going for it too. The main areas for improvement are seed storage, seed management, understanding the effects chronological and physiological age has on seed and reducing the generation age for planting.

There have been no signs of major disease in his visit so far but he’d hate to see NZ face the challenges of PCN, a problem which is of the highest cost to the UK industry.

Another recent NZ visit from John Keer, a consultant with United Kingdom company, Richard Austin, told growers in Pukekohe recently that it appeared New Zealand didn’t have as many problems with PCN due to the shorter history of growing potatoes here and natural predators.

“Are there low levels but no visual symptoms?” he asked. “Maybe there’s a ticking time bomb because you’re not doing soil testing. You have fabulous soils and PCN would love to live in there and have a big family, so get testing. The UK has been through dark days and we’ve made mistakes along the way.”

With around 120,000 hectares of potatoes grown in the UK every year he said losses from PCN totalled over 26 million pounds sterling annually, with over half the growing areas affected. Richard Austin tested 28,000 soil samples each year but this was not enough to handle PCN which was capable of a massive population explosion. The UK’s soil sampling system had evolved rapidly in the last four to six years and Keer urged NZ growers to do more, as it could be carried out at little cost.

“We were missing hot spots in the UK and they were being diluted from areas of the fields which were not affected,” he said, but using 1ha grids through GPS gave the ability for part-field treatments in order to maintain low PCN levels across fields.

“We will never get the whole field free but we can grow potatoes in a sustainable way,” he said.

“The greatest hope is resistant varieties,” he said. “Unfortunately that’s not what customers want but we have had some success in getting them better accepted.”


Canterbury 11th February 11am - 4:00pm, Plant and Food Research, Lincoln, Fitzgerald Room

Pukekohe 13th February 2:00pm - 4:30pm Plant and Food Pukekohe

Manawatu 14th February 2:00pm - 4:30pm Chris Pescini’s Farm, 52 Kimberley Road, Levin.

(John Keer’s NZ visit through the Inta-Ag conference, was covered by writer Glenys Christian).