Investigating variability in potato crops

Sarah SintonLandWISE 2016 Conference presenter Sarah Sinton is a well experienced member of a Plant and Food Research group studying potatoes.

In the 2012-13 growing season the Plant and Food researchers surveyed commercial potato crops in Canterbury and confirmed grower concerns that a “yield plateau” of approximately 60 t/ha was common.  At this level, potato growing is becoming uneconomic.

Plant and Food Research computer-based modelling shows that yields of 90 t/ha (paid yield) are theoretically possible in the surveyed paddocks in most years. This shows a “yield gap” of about 30 t/ha.

The most important factors found to be reducing yield were soil compaction, the soil-borne diseases Rhizoctonia stem canker and Spongospora root galls.

Tuber health, disease management, soil compaction and irrigation all have ability to reduce yields

Using CORE funding, Sarah and colleagues have been running a number of related trials, comparing field performance with modeled potential growth rates. They’ve used DNA to assess soil pathogens, applied a range of treatments and measured disease incidence and yields. They have also looked at the role of seed quality in potato emergence, variability and yield.

But it is not all about diseases. Soil compaction, structure and related issues such as aeration, drainage and water-holding show up as crop limiting factors.  Also implicated are irrigation management and weeds.

Potatoes NZ reports that the use of guidance technology and variable rate application based on soil testing is being undertaken but there is limited crop based management of inputs.  There may be opportunity to manipulate some inputs.

In paddock variability can be relatively easily identified using remote sensing equipment (both NDVI and Infrared) but there are three major problems with potatoes which are:

  • Remote sensing can identify differences in a paddock but these need to be ground truthed to determine what the reason for the difference is – e.g. canopy disease etc.
  • Often by the time a difference is apparent on a crop sensor map, even when it is ground truthed, growers cannot implement a management decision that will change the crop performance.
  • Yield maps are generally used as the baseline reference for Precision Agriculture and this is difficult and expensive to implement for potatoes.

Sarah is presenting some of her group’s work at LandWISE 2016. Look for “Investigating variability in potatoes”.

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