AgroNotes Series 8: Potato Production

Knowledge Center

Enterprise Brief:

The potato is a starchy tuber of the plant Solanum tuberosum and is a root vegetable native to the Americas, with the plant itself being a perennial in the nightshade family Solanaceae. Can be propagated vegetatively by planting tubers, pieces of tubers cut to include at least one or two eyes, or cuttings, a practice used in greenhouses for the production of healthy seed tubers. Plants propagated from tubers are clones of the parent, whereas those propagated from seed produce a range of different varieties.

Variety selection

There are many varieties however Victoria and Rutuku are the most common commercial varieties. Victoria is high yielding, early maturing, tolerant to bacteria wilt (BW), but susceptible to late blight (LB). Rutuku is highly sought after by traders, for its chip making quality.

Variety Maturity period(days) Yield (Kg/acre) Attributes
Victoria 90 -110 3000 – 4000 Tubers are large with red skin colour and light yellow flesh. It is moderately resistant to Late Blight and tolerant to Bacterial wilt. The tuber shape is round and has storability.
Web 110 – 130 3000 – 4000 Tubers are large with light red skin colour and cream flesh. It is tolerant to Late Blight and susceptible to bacterial blight. The tuber shape is oval round and has good storability.

Growth environment

A good site for potato growing should be identified based on climate, soil fertility, site history and topography. Potatoes grow well in cool areas with regular but moderate rainfall. Soils should be well-drained, fertile and slightly acid. Poorly drained and water-logged soils increase the risk of soil-borne disease infection and tuber rotting. The field should not have been used to grow potato or other solanaceous crops like tomatoes, pepper or eggplants for at least three seasons. This helps control soil-borne diseases especially bacterial wilt and pests.

Land Preparation

Seedbed should be well prepared and preferably plough or dig the land twice and early enough to allow decay of the grass.

Planting of Potatoes

The planting must be done as early in the rain season and when there is enough moisture in the soil. Good seed is characterized by having at least two good “sprouts”. Quality seed is acquired from a certified source, or established potato seed producers.

Spacing is at 75cm by 30cm for ware potato and 60cm by 30cm for seed potato. Plant in rows/furrows. Dig furrows that are 10-15cm deep, apply fertilizer in the furrow, mix with soil, place seed tubers and cover seed tubers by ridging or hilling up to 30cm high. Ridges preserve moisture in the soil and prevent damage from pests such as the potato tuber moth, and for better rooting establishment

Weed control in Irish potato

Weeding is an important practice for increased yields. Hilling is the drawing of soil on to the base of a plant to encourage the development of stolons where tuberisation takes place. First weeding and hilling is done about 2 weeks after crop emergence. Second weeding is done 3 weeks after the first weeding. Third weeding if weeds re-appear.

Soil fertility and water management practices

There are a number of practices that promote soil fertility and these include crop rotation, control of soil erosion, compost application. Equally are a number of water concertation practices which include ridging, hilling up, terracing for hilly areas.

Pests and diseases and their control

Potato Tuber Moth: Potato tuber moth affects both the foliage and tubers. It thrives in warmer regions and damage is caused by larvae only. Controlled by; use clean seed, cover potato tuber with soil to avoid the moths laying eggs on them, destroy tuber moth infested tubers, volunteer potato plants and plant debris, Do not plant potatoes in or near fields which were previously infested, spray / dust with insecticide and use of natural repellants e.g. African marigold weed (Targetes minuta), lantana camara , etc.

Cutworms: they cut down seedlings, usually right at or near the soil surface. Attack many other crops. Control is by; turn and till your garden soil at least 2 weeks before planting then collect and destroy any cutworms you find hiding in the soil, remove any plant debris and pull weeds to minimise places for small cutworms to shelter, spray with insecticides. At season’s end, turn and till your garden soil again.

Aphids: Aphids are tiny insects that can transmit virus diseases. Warm and dry weather is conducive for aphids, plus the presence of alternative host plants like legumes. Control; Insecticidal sprays, weed early and properly, plant on the right planting date and spacing, and avoid haulm regrowth after dehaluming.

Bacterial Wilt: Bacterial wilt, or brown rot, is the most serious bacterial disease that affects potato crops. Control by; Plant bacterial wilt-free seed, plant in bacterial wilt-free fields, restrict movement of people, especially in seed potato fields, fallow field for at least 3 consecutive seasons without planting potato and other Solanaceae crops, minimum tillage to reduces damage to roots, ridging at planting to reduce damage to roots and tubers, destroy volunteer potato plants and other alternate hosts, and plant disease-tolerant cultivars.

Late Blight: Symptoms can be observed in the leaves, stems and tubers. Control is by; Planting disease-free seed bought from reliable seed growers, use protective and systemic fungicides, conduct proper hilling and earthing up to prevent tuber infection, do not store disease-infected tubers, plant resistant varieties, destroy sources of primary inoculum (volunteer potato, dumps and cull piles), store seeds separately from ware potato and practice a 3 season rest/fallow period and potato crop rotation.

Harvesting and post-harvest handling

Harvesting is done when the plant has reached maturity, depending on the variety. For example, Victoria (90-110 days), Rutuku (110 -130 days). Potatoes should be harvested in dry weather to avoid disease infection and tuber rotting. Harvest the crop 10-15 days after dehaulming. Harvesting should be done with great care to avoid bruising of tubers; otherwise, tubers become susceptible to rot diseases.

After harvesting, sort to remove of damaged and diseased or malformed tubers. The first sorting of damaged tubers is done in the garden. Only good-looking tubers are left, from which seed potato can be selected. Grading is the exercise of separating tubers according to size for different purposes. The sizes include ware, seed and chats.

Harvested tubers should be spread on the floor for 4-5 days to let them cool from field heat, dry the moisture on the skin and to heal any bruises before being transferred to storage shelves/racks. Thereafter, sort the potatoes again to remove any diseased or damaged tubers.

From the Team

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