A major potato producer in Yorkshire has boosted marketable yields by around 12% by adopting a more comprehensive approach to crop nutrition.

  • Net margin increases of over £600/ha
  • Saleable yields up by around 12% on average
  • OptiYield over substantial cropping area significantly increasing the marketable yield
  • Seeing more even tubers, healthier crops and improved yields

James Hopwood, who farms with his family at Clock Farm, Elvington is seeing more even tubers, healthier crops and improved yields as a result of changes implemented across both farms.

“It’s all about the science behind the soil – we’re looking at the base soil nutrition and linking it to the crop requirement, while also taking into account the market demands,” he says. “We take very detailed soil analyses and then apply a foliar fertiliser formulated specifically to meet the crops’ needs at each particular growth stage.

“It’s all about driving efficiencies,” he adds. “Attention to detail is so important – there are a lot of factors to get right in potato growing, and this is another link in the chain to get the best yields, quality and returns possible.”

Mr Hopwood came across this new targeted approach – developed by Emerald Research – about five years ago, when he hosted trials at a previous farm. “They were run by the independent firm NDSM and we had some very good results.” Taking the extra costs into account, they resulted in an increased net profit of over £600/ha, based on average market values at the time.

Since then, he has rolled it out commercially across his own 40ha farm and a 200ha farm near York. “We take soil samples in February for very detailed analysis of macro- and micro-nutrients, organic matter, pH and so on,” says Mr Hopwood. “ERL then runs them through their OptiYield programme, which also takes into consideration the variety grown and target market, to produce a bespoke foliar nutrition programme.”

The results observed from the implementation of the OptiYield nutrition programme over three years across a substantial cropping area are significantly increasing the marketable yield of the crop produced by 12%.

Mr Hopwood has also been trying to boost soil organic matter and microbial activity, so regularly applies farmyard manure, slurry or digestate. “Too often we put fertiliser into the soil without it being made readily available by the microbes, so we’re trying to improve the moisture holding capacity and release of nutrients.”

He applies a base Omex fertiliser in suspension before ridging and planting the tubers. “Sometimes we use a liquid phosphate fertiliser around the growing zone at planting – I don’t use broadcast nitrogen any more as I don’t see the benefit – most of it runs down to the ridge base so it’s not available to the crop.”

Once the crop reaches the rosette stage, Mr Hopwood applies the first dose of foliar fertiliser, mixed in with the blight fungicide. “We give each crop about eight or 10 applications throughout the growing season and mix the nutrients ourselves using a colour-coded system,” he says. “Every application is mixed with the blight spray, so there are no extra passes involved, unless it’s particularly dry with low blight pressure.”

Mr Hopwood is farming 243ha of potatoes and uses the OptiYield programme across about 200ha of that. “We are targeting it to the more demanding markets like chipping, as the contracts reward consistently even-sized crops. We also use it on un-irrigated ware crops to reduce the risk of stress.”

By adopting this holistic approach to crop nutrition, Mr Hopwood has noticed that the stems are considerably thicker and the plants far healthier. “Increased stem thickness means there are more nutrients being translocated through the xylem and phloem,” he says. “When the crop is under stress through drought or hot days we’ve certainly noticed that there’s less wilting in the leaves – and stress always affects the tubers in one way or another.”

However, there is a knock-on effect to having greener, healthier crops. “They do die slower, so you have to manage them correctly and desiccate accordingly.” Tailoring the crop nutrition isn’t a silver bullet, he adds. “It’s all about attention to detail and taking a holistic approach. But we’ve done the trials and know it works, and are making solid commercial decisions on where to use it. I’d rather produce an 18t crop at the right size and the right quality than 20t and have 30% wastage.”

Mr. Hopwood says that, “Future cropping will focus on the detailed crop nutrition that OptiYield provides in order to continue to produce crops in a variety of situations with perceived lower risk and continually higher returns.”