Trials by crop consultants Niab Cuf have revealed that intensive cultivations have no benefit on potato yields, tuber size or quality, marking it out as a process that farmers can simplify to cut costs and improve soil structure.
Northern Irish grower Richard Orr has put this theory into practice, cutting his establishment costs by £250/ha by switching from a traditional bed-till and destoner regime to a one-pass system using a TillerStar.
The TillerStar uses patented star finger rollers to till, sieve and transform unprepared ground into ridged beds in a single action, cutting out the need for multiple passes with several machines.
“People said to us we wouldn’t be able to go to reduced tillage with potatoes in the rotation, so that’s when we started looking at ways we could reduce it,” he says.
Mr Orr ploughed all the land going into potatoes before using the TillerStar the first year, but after trying it straight into stubbles the following season, he now goes straight in with the machine, as it prefers firmer ground.
Alongside establishment costs being reduced by 25-30%, the combination of reduced tillage and the use of cover crops means the soil isn’t slumping after the potatoes are planted.
“We found that destoning pulverises the soil too much, whereas the combination of cover crops and reduced tillage results in better root and soil structure,” Mr Orr says.
Mr Orr says he hasn’t seen any negative effects from moving to reduced tillage, with potatoes going in better, although he does admit skin finish can be affected sometimes.