Meet our strategic farmer: Kerr Howatson

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Farm Manager Kerr shares his experiences of the Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm Programme

Host farm - Bruce Farms, Meigle, Perthshire

Project dates: 2016-2019

How are you enjoying life as an AHDB strategic farmer?

I’m really enjoying it. This is our third and final year and we’ve had good results in the first two years, so we’re looking forward to a great final year. We want to end the project with some golden nuggets of helpful information people can take away and use. Those areas we have looked at and now have the confidence to say if you change something here you can improve your yield and pack out figures.

What have been your most interesting results so far?

The most interesting results have probably been the cultivation and nutrition trials. Cultivations really interested me so we started that early and began with eight trials which we later narrowed down to the ones which seemed to be yielding best and costing least. Both the cultivation and the nutrition trials have shown that making a small change can make a big difference to yields.

Have you applied any of the trial results to the commercial side of the farm?

We have with regards to cultivations. We try to bed till a lot less and to stone separate at shallower depths as we know this reduces input costs and can increase yields.

We’ve also had good results when we have trialled reducing nitrogen and I think if we get more good results this year then I’ll be confident we can cut back on nitrogen commercially as well, in the right environmental conditions.

You have been looking at precision technology this year, what do you hope to find?

Precision technology is something that really interests us, we do nutrient mapping on farm but we wanted to see if we could take it a bit further. We’ve been trying variable rate planting in trials this year so it’ll be interesting to see what difference those have made.

You were keen to see improvements to the farm’s bottom line when you started this project, have you?

Yes. We have seen improvements in yield, pack out figures and costs across all of the trials and to prove it can be done this year we will have one ‘golden plot’. We’re taking all the best performing treatments, in cultivations, nutrition and seed spacing, and that plot should have the highest yield and pack out.

I’m confident that after two years of being a strategic farmer we will change our management practices and see our profit margins increase.

Have you got any advice for any future AHDB strategic farmers?

I would say not to underestimate the work involved, although it’s definitely worth it. Doing trials on your own land, with your own machinery and your own management is really useful, and you make lots of handy contacts. The key for us was having a hands on project team which worked well together to make sure the we focused on trials which would be of use to the wider industry.

What do you see as the main opportunities and challenges facing the potato industry?

For us the weather is always a challenge, we seem to be seeing more extremes, from soaking wet weeks to the dry hot summer last year, and that type of thing is hard to plan for. Also, growing packing potatoes in a declining market isn’t easy. On the opportunities side I think the convenience market is somewhere we need to be focusing our efforts, it’s a real growth area.

This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of All About Scotland.

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