How to grow po­ta­toes with pre­ci­sion

Po­ta­toes are an in­ter­est­ing crop but grow­ing them leaves lit­tle room for mis­takes.

NZ Grower - - Digging Deep -

Potato have un­usual nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments, but this might not al­ways be con­sid­ered as skilled potato cul­ti­va­tors of­ten have an em­pir­i­cal ap­proach that works.

Then there is pest con­trol. Po­ta­toes are one of the most chem­i­cally sprayed crops be­cause a pre­ven­tive man­age­ment strat­egy is needed, in or­der to pre-empt pests. This re­quires both good tim­ing and fore­casts. Last but not least, potato cul­ti­va­tion is largely about pro­duc­ing the right qual­ity and not just fo­cus­ing on quan­tity. This is true for all crops to some ex­tent, but when it comes to po­ta­toes it’s ex­tremely im­por­tant that cer­tain qual­ity re­quire­ments are met in or­der for the crop to be saleable at all. This is not just about the over­all qual­ity. Po­ta­toes can’t have ugly spots, or be too large or small. They must also have the right dry mat­ter con­tent and have proper cook­ing prop­er­ties. We’re talk­ing about sev­eral spe­cific pre­ci­sion as­pects of qual­ity that are cru­cial.

All of this makes pre­ci­sion cul­ti­va­tion par­tic­u­larly suit­able for po­ta­toes. And as well there needs to be a high a level of ac­cu­racy, with re­source ef­fi­ciency to make grow­ing this crop as prof­itable as pos­si­ble.

What is pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture? Nor­mally this refers to a grow­ing sys­tem with sev­eral high tech fea­tures which en­ables a pre­ci­sion sup­ply of var­i­ous re­sources, such as wa­ter or nu­tri­tion, to meet the plant’s ex­act needs, at the right time and in the right place.

There are three ob­jec­tives be­hind the aim for pre­ci­sion:

• Sav­ing re­sources, as you can sup­ply the crop with the re­sources on de­mand, at the right time, di­rectly to the plant or­gan that as­sim­i­lates it, and with low losses

• You can bet­ter meet the cur­rent needs of the crop, and

• You can eas­ily ma­nip­u­late the crop, in or­der to get closer to the tar­get for yield level and qual­ity.

Ir­ri­ga­tion in pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture There are dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to im­ple­ment­ing pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture, but the most el­e­men­tary is a high­pre­ci­sion ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem that de­liv­ers wa­ter ex­actly where you want, in ex­actly the right flow. Through this sys­tem you can then con­trol the nu­tri­ent sup­ply, and it’s pos­si­ble to in­cor­po­rate chem­i­cal pest con­trol with the ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter.

Plant nu­tri­tion in pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture

Po­ta­toes, like all crops, need a prop­erly bal­anced and com­plete nu­tri­ent flow from the en­vi­ron­ment into the plant. I have no­ticed that this is of­ten mis­un­der­stood. When nour­ish­ing the soil the pur­pose is to cre­ate con­di­tions for such a flow. In pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture, the nu­tri­ent sup­ply ap­proaches the in­trin­sic nu­tri­tional need of the crop, as the nu­tri­ents are sup­plied im­me­di­ately when needed di­rectly to the root zone, and ad­justed ac­cord­ing to the ab­sorp­tion ca­pac­ity. You can never look at only one nu­tri­ent at a time, be­cause the ef­fect of each nu­tri­ent on the crop de­pends strongly on how much the crop has ob­tained of the other nu­tri­ents. And you must dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the need of the crop and the im­pact of the soil on the sys­tem. Step one is to un­der­stand what the crop needs, step two is to un­der­stand the im­pact of the soil, and step three is to un­der­stand how to sup­ply it. >

Ni­tro­gen is the most growth and yield lim­it­ing nu­tri­ent for po­ta­toes, even though it's not the nu­tri­ent in high­est de­mand.

Dig­ging Deep Joachim Nach­man­sohn Joachim Nach­man­sohn is an in­ter­na­tional fer­til­izer and soil & wa­ter man­age­ment ex­pert. Through his com­pany Nach­man­sohn Con­sult­ing & Co he, among other things, work with his unique trade­mark De­mand-Driven Fer­til­iza­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

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