Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Increasing water use efficiency in potato production

Planting potatoes in flat, rather than ridged beds can increase irrigation water use efficiency in some production systems, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers.

Historically, US potato growers seeded their crops in ridged rows (as British growers tend to do) and watered their plants by channelling surface irrigation to flow through the furrows between the rows. Even though most commercial potato producers in the Pacific Northwest now irrigate their crops with sprinklers, they still typically use ridged-row planting systems.

But this planting configuration allows irrigation runoff to collect in the furrow and percolate below the crop root zone. This means that the water is unavailable to the crops, and can also lead to increased nitrate leaching from the soil.

The researchers found that using a flat bed system increased yields by an average of 6 percent, even though 5 percent less water was used for irrigation. This meant that using flat beds instead of ridged rows for potato production led to an overall 12 percent increase in irrigation water use efficiency. The gains were attributed to several factors, especially the probability that planting potatoes in flat beds improves water and nitrogen use efficiency because more water reaches the potato roots.

Read the report in full here.