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New AHDB strategic centre focuses on brassicas

New AHDB strategic centre focuses on brassicas - Scotland SC ESG 05062020 trial planting 3

Scotland SC ESG 05062020 trial planting 3 /// © East of Scotland Growers Ltd.


East of Scotland Growers (ESG) has joined AHDB’s Farm Excellence programme as the new Strategic Centre for Field Vegetable Crops – Brassicas in Scotland. A series of four trials will be conducted over the brassica-growing season at ESG’s fields in Balmullo, Fife. The grower-led trials will look at methods of preventing downy mildew in cauliflower and the impact of bio-stimulants on crop health and vigour. 

They will also explore herbicide screening pre- and post-planting, as well as the use of herbicides that have shown promise in AHDB’s SCEPTREplus trials. AHDB is working in partnership with farmer-owned cooperative East of Scotland Growers, which produces broccoli and cauliflower, and Kettle Produce, which grows Brussels sprouts and swedes, to carry out the trials. 

ADAS is the subcontractor in charge of the trials, which are being conducted by Oxford Agriculture Trials (OATS). NIAB is also a partner in the project. James Rome, agronomist at East of Scotland Growers, said: “We were keen to work with AHDB as we face different challenges in Scotland from other parts of the UK. We wanted to trial new approaches on our doorstep that can benefit local growers. The biggest trial we will be undertaking is for bio-stimulants. We need to adapt our conventional methods of growing to use these new products so we are less reliant on traditional chemistry. If we can produce a healthy plant from the start then we will have less problems with disease and pests.”

Drilling of swedes began on 1 June, with the first herbicides applied later that week. The planting of the other brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts and collards/points – began on 5 June, with the first application of bio-stimulants due in the next two weeks.

The new Scottish Strategic Centre for Brassicas complements the current AHDB strategic centres for field vegetable crops, which conduct ‘core’ variety evaluation trials each year. Additional funding is available specifically for grower-led areas of work and the new centre is the result of such a grower-led initiative where specific problems that occur in Scotland can be addressed. 

Scotland is one of the UK’s three key brassica production regions, in addition to Lincolnshire and Cornwall, and growers in the country are an important supplier of broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and swedes. Over 90% of all autumn and winter cauliflower and spring cabbage produced in the UK is now sold through the supermarkets as a programmed part of their 52-week supply. 

Dr Dawn Teverson, AHDB Knowledge Exchange Manager for Horticulture, said: “Scotland’s distinct regional climate lends it to a summer production peak for flower-headed brassicas and overwintered brussels sprouts but also favours diseases such as downy mildew and light leaf spot, which are more minor issues in other regions. We are delighted to announce this new partnership and look forward to working together to overcome some of the unique challenges faced by our growers in Scotland.”

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NEPG cautiously optimistic about coming potato season

Overall, growers in the NEPG are cautiously optimistic about the coming season. Thanks to increasing exports outside the EU, and increased need for raw material due to low dry matter contents in some of the mainland countries’ crops, demand from mainland processors is expected to be firm

A total of 24.8 million tons of potatoes (excluding seed and starch) was the harvest forecast for the NEPG (NorthWestern European Potato Growers) as at October 5.

Based on the latest trial digs and harvest information, this estimate was 300,000 tons higher than that made on September 1, but would come in at 13% less than last year and 1.6% below the 5-year average, according to a recent summary by the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) potato market analyst Arthur Marshall. However, he said, there are concerns in the NEPG over the quality of supplies in store in some countries.

In his report, published by the NEPG on October 30, Marshall said the harvest has begun to move on rapidly in many areas due to the good conditions, but less favourable weather earlier this year means the harvest will be later compared to other years. Just under half of the area across the NEPG was still to harvest at the start of October.

“The NEPG is a large area with a lot of variation in conditions. Whereas in the south of Germany it has been, at times, too dry to harvest, wet conditions have held up lifting in the north of Germany, parts of Belgium and the Netherlands, and GB (Great Britain). Due to heavy rainfall in September, there were reports of rot in parts of the NEPG and dry matter contents in some areas are low, but overall, quality is good. Despite earlier fears in some areas, secondary growth is generally under control, though there are a few cases. However, the wet conditions in many areas create some risks for the crop going into store, especially where rot has already been reported.

“The NEPG believes that the quality of supplies available in the coming season will depend greatly on the conditions of crops in store. If conditions in store are especially poor in some areas, this could make markets in some mainland NEPG countries tighter than the production figure alone suggests,” he said.

Market and crop update

Marshall said that, overall, growers in the NEPG are cautiously optimistic about the coming season. Thanks to increasing exports outside the EU, and increased need for raw material due to low dry matter contents in some of the mainland countries’ crops, demand from mainland processors is expected to be firm.

“Also, fresh potato exports from NEPG countries to elsewhere in Europe could meet good demand, with harvests in many countries likely to be lower year-on-year,” he said. As an example, he said CePa, Italy’s Potato Documentation Centre), estimates a 2015 crop of 1.1-1.2 million tons, down about 15% on last year.

Processing prices

Processing potato prices in the NEPG have generally begun to stabilise into October, following price declines earlier as harvest progressed. Generally, price quotes for France and Belgium for Bintje (the middle-early ripening potato variety) have been below quotes for other processing varieties, which Marshall said is likely to be a factor in the ongoing processing variety switch in many mainland NEPG countries from traditional Bintje to newer, higher yielding, alternatives such as Fontane, Markies and Agria.

The Netherlands: in some areas the harvest has been beset by delays and problems with rot. The rot in the field is now said to be under control but growers are monitoring rot in store carefully, Marshall said. Up to 30% of crops were still to be harvested by the final week in October, with some growers on lighter soils waiting for orders for ex-field delivery before lifting. “Processing usage so far this season has been lower than in 2014 and 2013, but this could be supply or demand driven, while Phaff Export Marketing reports that seed exporters believe there are good export opportunities,” he said.

Belgium: lifting was also behind schedule, with 10-20% still to lift in the last week of October. Bintje has sometimes had to be offered up rapidly due to quality concerns. A big fire in early October in a Clarebout factory, which is not expected to be ready again until January, was also of concern to some growers.

France: has begun importing some potatoes from the UK, in line with usual levels for the time of year. The French harvest was about 95% complete by the last week of October, with light harvest pressure still remaining on prices. Usage for processing in July-September was down 31,000 tons year-on-year, although still slightly above that for the same months in 2013. Export demand from southern Europe, such as Italy, has been good.

Germany: exports into Italy have also been reported, as well as to nearby export markets such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Denmark. Only 10-15% of crops were yet to be harvested in late October, with yields proving to be good. Indeed, output in the largest potato growing region, Lower Saxony, is up from last season at about 1.7Mt, but export opportunities are expected to play a significant role there this season.

The next NEPG 2015 crop estimate is expected in late November.

source: AHDB Potatoes business report for Northern Europe