Growing with Sarpo: SPW Open Day 22 August, Tregaron

Growing with Sarpo: SPW Open Day 22 August, Tregaron

After more than a decade and a half of organising open days on other people’s farms, it was time to host one myself! I am growing seed of two Sarpo varieties, Axona and Shona, on the farm of my friend and former colleague, Dafydd Owen in the village of Bronant near Tregaron

With demand for Sarpo varieties outstripping supply Sarpo Potatoes Ltd is in a strong position to expand, supported by funding from the RDP Wales for the ‘Sustainable Potatoes Wales‘ (SPW) project to help expand its grower base, streamline its grading and packing systems and continue to promote its varieties. As one of three seed growers in Wales this season and the Field Officer for SPW, I hosted an open day to promote seed production in Wales and encourage new producers into the Sarpo fold.

David Shaw, Director of SPL covered the characteristics of Sarpo varieties, focusing on their high blight and virus resistance, and vigorous, weed suppressing growth, which together make them particularly suitable to organic/ low input systems. Simon White, the SPW technical Officer outlined the principles of seed production, which are not hugely different from ware production, the main differences being:

  • The field must have been free of potatoes for 4 – 7 years, depending on the grade of seed you are growing, and certified free of PCN
  • The seed rate is higher and plant spacings lower to encourage a larger number of smaller tubers
  • Seed needs to be certified, which means at least one and usually two inspections from APHA during the growing season. You need to achieve a high degree of freedom from diseases (viruses and blackleg mostly) and off types, the exact tolerances for which vary according to the grade.
  • A requirement to rogue prior to inspection
  • Separation distances from other potato crops and varieties again depending on grade.

I won’t go into further detail here but the SPW Seed Producers Manual  sets it all out with admirable clarity.

For my part, it has all gone rather well so far this season (I know – counting chicks and all that!), and as long as I get a decent spell in September in which to lift, things are looking pretty good. Our heavy soils and higher rainfall out West meant that I didn’t struggle with moisture during the dry spring, and those long dry spells meant I was able to get on the land to plant and ridge up at just the right time (not to be taken for granted in these parts!), and sufficient moisture at tuber initiation meant scab is under control. Nevertheless, I did have a lot of redshank, but the crop got up to seed size (I’d topped the week before the open day) and the roots shouldn’t interfere too much with harvest, so apart from looking a bit unsightly, I don’t think it has done too much harm. Still I picked up some very useful tips on raking the rows prior too/ shortly after emergence which will improve my intrarow weed management no end next year.

As a producer for SPL, I enjoy a guaranteed market, a guaranteed price and a healthy (30%) organic premium. The company picks up some of the key costs, including the seed, (seed) certification, grading and haulage, so there is a large element of risk sharing between the grower and the Company, which is very attractive to me as a new grower,

All being well, I’m on course for a Gross Margin of about £635/ ha. I estimate I’ll get a yield of around 11t/ha certified seed which, if it actually materialises, I will be very pleased with. I pay £320/ ha in rent which includes access to all the machinery on the farm, but my main cost is harvesting – about £650/ ha and almost exactly half of my total costs. So growers with their own kit, their own land, and access to family labour may well be able to improve significantly on my Gross Margin.

If any of that is of interest to you, we’re very keen to work with more growers, so please do contact me at

 Sustainable Potatoes Wales is funded by the Welsh Government and the EU from the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2014 – 2020