Fleecing potatoes in hope of good year
A SPELL of settled weather has injected hope into North Devon's rain-soaked farmers.
They have at last been able to prepare the soil and plant their fields.
Tractors have been hard at work ploughing, spreading, drilling and spraying in anticipation of a season better than the last.
Potato and cereals man Marcus Avery was able to fleece over his first acreage of earlies on Thursday.
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He was reverting to the practice after abandoning it last year.
"We do it every year – except last year.
"But we should have done it. Potatoes weren't making much money the season before and the fleece is expensive. We didn't think there was enough in it.
"But this year we're hoping that because there's a shortage we'll get them a bit earlier.
"We'll do ten acres under fleece which will come 14 days before the others and will hit the earlier market.
"It's all about cash flow really, just to keep it going.
"We normally start digging in mid June but these will be late May so we'll have cash flow in June."
Last year because of the weather, Marcus did not start digging until July. He said: "If we'd had the fleece on it would have been a lot better."
As he and his team laid the fleece over the rich looking trenches of soil he showed photos of the same fields last year, reflecting the way the weather controls their lives.
He said: "The soil is dryer now than it was in July last year. It was so wet it wasn't true.
"You expect it to be wet in the winter but not in the middle of July and August."
It looks to have recovered well and is now in near perfect condition.
Marcus said: "It's good soil, it's very sandy and we've put a lot of dung on it.
"We spread it about a month ago so it would all break down.
"We use a destoner even though there's no stones. It fluffs up the soil, mixes it up with the dung. Otherwise you put it on, rotovate it and it becomes a solid mass."
The fleece is a speculative investment in the hope of making up on last year's losses.
"It was a dreadful season for everybody," said Marcus.
"We're just hoping to get back on track, have a good season and hopefully it was just a one off."
"We don't grow main crop on this ten-acre field because it can be too dry.
"But we'll be able to start digging in early May."
Marcus grows just over 100 acres of potatoes, of which 30 of earlies are already in and 50 acres of main crop on Braunton Great Field will go in last.
It takes them six to eight weeks and Marcus hopes to be finished planting by the end of April.