Potatoes are the fourth-most produced crop on the planet after corn, wheat and rice. Even though we grow them in high volumes, several factors can potentially limit the maximum potential of potato yields.
A factor you have no control over, weather is a major player when it comes to yield potential. Cooler (but not cold) temperatures are ideal growing conditions for potatoes, and anything over 30°C (86°F) is generally detrimental to growth. Cold and wet conditions can also be particularly harmful to potato crops, as these conditions can expedite the growth of potato blight.
Several pathogens and diseases can take hold of your potato crops if improperly managed. One in particular is potato blight, which can be downright devastating and is extremely difficult to prevent and control. Some measures can be taken preemptively, such as spraying fungicide early, piling mulch around infected stems (causing the pathogen to have to travel further to get to the tuber), and destroying the canopy before harvest.
Two major pests can really damage your potato crops (among a few others). Colorado potato beetles are incredibly destructive to your fields and can wipe out entire crops if not taken care of quickly. With warming temperatures shortening winters, CPBs can emerge earlier from their overwintering, therefore lengthening their lifecycle. They are also growing resistance to insecticides, so keeping up to date on pest management practices is key. Potato psyllids can also do serious damage, not because of the psyllids themselves, but the zebra chip pathogen they carry. The pathogen, when activated, can show signs similar to nutrient deficiencies such as chlorosis, leaf scorching, swollen nodes and curling leaves, but show their namesake when cooked. The pathogen converts potato starches into sugar, which caramelize when cooked, leaving dark brown lines in the chip. The chips are edible but considered unsellable. Other pests such as white grubs and aphids can also have negative effects on potato crops.
Improper storage can also rob you of higher yields. As potatoes prefer cooler temperatures, investing in proper refrigeration can be a crop saver in the long run.
5. Soil prep
Ensuring you plant your potatoes at the right depth and hilling them accordingly will keep them from being exposed to the sunlight.
Keeping track of new varieties and solutions for resistance to drought, pests, moisture loss and other benefits will also play an important role in ensuring the highest yields. Advances in genealogy and plant technology are happening so rapidly that it’s important to stay up to date on the latest developments.
Improper nutrient management, or lack of available nutrients, can show up visually in numerous ways. Symptoms of these various deficiencies can include chlorosis, leaf necrosis, stunted growth, brittle leaves, wilting and more. An extremely important nutrient to manage is nitrogen; potatoes need the right amount of nitrogen applied at the right time. Too much or too early can delay tuber initiation and negatively affect the growth of the tuber itself – the plant may look full, but you may not have the tubers desired beneath the soil.
ESN is a great option for ensuring your nitrogen is being delivered efficiently and when the potato plant needs it. The polymer coating protects nitrogen loss from volatilization, leaching and denitrification and will release N over the course of 50-80 days, significantly longer than most nitrogen fertilizers. The controlled feeding provided by ESN’s controlled release is ideal for potatoes in many production environments and can eliminate the need for many of the in-season applications common in potato production.
Here are 4 more tips on how to get the most out of your ESN nitrogen for your potatoes.
Take an interactive VR Tour with Dr. Alan Blaylock Ph.D. of an ESN potato plot in Idaho.
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