Call for expert attention in store following extreme seasonal challenges for GB potato stocks

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In a difficult 2015/16 storage season, AHDB’s event, hosted by Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research (SBCSR) at the start of March, brought timely encouragement to address industry concerns.

Elaborating on his personal experience in the Norfolk area, Simon Alexander reported, “It’s hard to say, but the worst losses I have had due to rots could probably add up to 10-15%, with the primary villains being the high temperature and high ambient humidity leading to a protracted drying period.

“The ideal is to have the crops dried within 3 weeks, but we were seeing 4 and even 5 week drying periods at the outset. And the subsequent lack of cool, and most importantly dry, air over the winter months limited our opportunities as store managers to dry out the crops without then hitting dew point.”

“We received pre-Christmas reports from the worst hit stores of crop breakdowns to such an extent that some stores had to be unloaded,” added Adrian Cunnington, head of SBCSR.

“However with AHDB’s stocks survey averages showing around 1.9 million tonnes still being held in store at the end of January, expert store management is still a critical area for attention.

“Dealing with the consequences of the mild, external, over-winter climatic conditions in store is now the reality for many growers.”

Delegates were segmented into small group workshops on rots, directed to enabling store managers to identify and assess threats, keep tuber quality consistent and ultimately reduce waste and losses.

“It was interesting to hear what others recommended in difficult circumstances,” concluded Richard Wilson of R S Cockerill, York. “Ideas such as utilisation of industrial dehumidifying units and, in some cases, a real commercial advantage of manual over automatic store control to maintain a sound, dry crop.”

Summarising the outcomes of the multiple groups, Mr Cunnington added, “The consensus from the forum workshops was to concentrate effort into ventilating any ‘wet’ areas of the store using all the tools available to limit spread.

“However, established bacterial rots in crops at processing storage temperatures will usually gather momentum over time, so there also needs to be some recognition that storage life is likely to be limited.”

The event also offered tools and guidance targeted to ensure stores are economically efficient, cost-effective and prepared to be compliant with new statutory regulations, such as impending label requirements for active re-circulation of CIPC.

“As stocks begin to unload, we’re heading into an opportune time to get ready to do work on empty stores in May and June in preparation for next season before the busy harvest period begins.” explained Rob Clayton, strategy director for AHDB Potatoes, in the opening session of the day.

“You here are the risk takers, sales agents, merchants, and capital investors – the people who have to make storage pay. Look closely at the efficiency of your storage. Returns can be significantly improved by controlling costs and making the store work more effectively.”

Helping store operators to get a strong grip of their storage costs, Nick Blake of Andersons Eastern presented the new AHDB Storage Cost Calculator, available to download free in accessible excel format from the AHDB Potatoes website (

“It’s a simple, one-page tool that can be populated using basic financial information and the results can really support potato growers in working out the margins or value required for long term and late season decisions,” enthused Mr Blake.

The day turned to issues of store design and Shropshire grower Michael Bubb (J M Bubb & Sons), McCain’s Southern Grower of the Year 2012, gave a compelling summary of why his business chose to invest in new bulk storage facilities.

“It was expensive but we couldn’t see the point in compromising what we wanted to achieve for our customers. We opted for a turn-key solution which meant every facet of the shed and equipment was designed to fit together perfectly.

“The required ventilation characteristics were the primary consideration, however the approach we took meant the store design and the equipment complemented each other to enable much of the equipment within to qualify for capital allowances.

“We calculated the investment at £178/tonne for the store in 2011 and £158/tonne (after grants) in 2014.”

When probed by the delegates if he would embark on the same investment endeavour again, Mr Bubb replied, “Just try doing nothing and see what happens.”

Mr Cunnington closed the day with an update on the on-going Storage 2020 campaign, intended to drive store improvements on an industry scale.

Reminding the audience of the need to look long-term, Mr Cunnington said, “The evidence from surveys at BP2015 showed that 1/3 of respondents had not worked on their stores in the last 3 years.

“Your stores, however, are as important for investment attention as any other piece of agricultural kit or machinery and areas of slow development over the last 10 years are actually potential opportunities for progress too.

“The forum created real impact with over 63% of polled delegates claiming they would change their working practices as a result of attending the event,” reported Dr Cunnington on the results of formal feedback. “For those who missed the chance to be present however, copies of the presentations and selected videos will be available on the AHDB Potatoes website at in the coming days.”

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