Disaster looming for potato producers

Potato crops might well be affected by the wet summer which will be reflected in the prices to consumers.
Potato crops might well be affected by the wet summer which will be reflected in the prices to consumers.

THE wet summer is affecting most farmers in the Borders, with the possible exception of berry growers.

Potato producers face the most severe challenges, said new NFU regional manager Nina Clancy.

“This is a potential disaster. The planting of potatoes was later due to the weather conditions – so late that some only just gave up planting two weeks ago. Crop spraying has been impossible and the effects of this are severe.

“Blight rots the stem and tuber. Once it is in the crops, it spreads quickly via spores and the only control is weekly spraying. If it gets a hold, the whole crop could be affected. Late planting will mean a late harvest when poorer weather is more likely which affects the quality of the potatoes lifted,” she explained.

Ms Clancy knew of rented potato land not planted, with farmers having to pay the rent without having been able to plant a crop.

But soft fruit producers might be happier. She said: “Although they have suffered with the wet weather, rain doesn’t damage unripe fruit and the slightly cooler temperatures has meant that the season is later than usual.”

Cereal growers are crossing their fingers for a drying wind. Ms Clancy explained: “Most crops are under threat of disease due to warm and wet conditions. Farmers cannot get onto the fields to spray as they will cause a great deal of damage. They need both the crop and the land to dry out first.

“Crops are falling behind. You would expect some to be turning and ripening, but much of the Borders is still green. There will be some yield penalty, especially in spring crops and beans. Some have reported that waterlogged fields have affected crop development.

“The cost of all of this will not be felt until the crop is harvested. Harvest itself should be starting at the end of July for some crops, but a delay is inevitable. If ground conditions do not improve, the damage will be terrible. The longer the delay in starting, the longer harvest takes and the more difficulties will be faced with weather conditions later in the year.”

Vegetable farmers have had problems getting plants into the ground and there are areas unplanted, said Ms Clancy.

Cabbage and sprout crops in particular have been hit. “The cost of growing these crops is substantial. Financial losses could be huge for some, “ she said.

Some farmers managed to get an early first cut of silage into the pit, but many sheep and suckler cows producers have not been able to bring any in yet.

“Silage quality depends on cutting the grass at the right stage. That has past now so quality is deteriorating everyday and it will mean additional feed costs over the winter. And if the weather does not improve, the damage that will be done to grassland while trying to cut and bring in the silage will be felt for a few years to come,” she said.

But there is still a chance to get hay in if there is a long spell of dry sunny weather.

Agricultural contractors are hoping for better weather soon.

“They have been badly affected from a cash flow point of view as they have not been able to do the work. When and if the weather improves, they will be in high demand and unlikely to be able to keep up,” said Ms Clancy.

Meanwhile, farmers are trying to get round the problem of wet fields for there has been a large increase in demand for flotation tyres, dual wheels, and tracks for large tractors and combines.

Ms Clancy said: “Borders farmers are resourceful and will bounce back no matter what the weather throws at them. The best thing the public can do is make sure they support the home-grown market and lobby supermarkets to stock Scottish.”