Precision agriculture for potato production

Precision agriculture for potato production

Variable-rate applications of crop inputs can offer significant benefits.

Cooling heat stress with calcium

Cooling heat stress with calcium

Potato tubers need more calcium under stressful conditions.

Late blight disease, caused by the pathogen Phytophthora infestans, continues to be one of the most serious disease concerns for potato growers. Over the past few years, new genotypes of P. infestans have emerged creating new management challenges for commercial potato growers.
Creative solutions are needed in the battle against bacterial diseases in potato. In people, most bacterial diseases are treated with antibiotics, but due to the rise in resistant bacterial strains, that option, apart from a few exceptions, is off the table for field-scale agriculture.
In Ontario, the hot summer temperatures in 2018 reduced potato yields even under irrigation. A few cases of heat necrosis and/or calcium deficiency due to drought and heat stress were also reported. The hot, dry start for potatoes in many parts of Canada, combined with challenging harvest conditions that left many unharvested acres, resulted in lower overall production.
This article was republished from a 1999 article in Top Crop Manager.The basic principles of potato storage have not changed much over the years. The computer age has allowed growers to more precisely control their humidity and ventilation operations, but the need to minimize disease, cool the pile, reduce shrinkage and preserve the crop until shipment remains essentially the same.Every storage situation is different, according to John Walsh a former potato storage management specialist for the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture and now an agronomist with McCain Foods in Florenceville. However, he has a basic strategy that he shares with growers, which holds true for most situations: growers can adjust to suit their operation.“There could be 1000 management situations,” Walsh explains. “But we've developed a strategy for storage management that begins with evaluating the crop for rot potential. For example, if a grower sees late blight late in the growing season, a flag should go up. If soil is saturated for more than 24 hours, another flag goes up. If there is rain during harvest — another flag. If rot is seen during harvest, that's another flag. If there are no flags, the grower can go ahead and start curing the crop. If a grower only has one flag, only a couple days of drying will be needed. If there are two flags, a couple weeks of drying may be necessary. If there are three flags, it would be best to turn the humidifier off, turn the fans on, and leave them that way because it could take more than two months to dry the crop. In the end, a little extra shrink is better than potatoes flowing out the door!”The goal of all growers is to prevent rot from infecting the entire warehouse. Once taken care of, there are four steps to follow: curing, cooling, holding and removal of the crop from storage. If all are accomplished with no problems, a grower has completed the second stage of crop production, the first being the actual growing of the crop.The curing process helps heal wounds and set the skin on the tubers, reducing any opportunity for disease to infect them. Walsh says the curing process is slightly different depending on how the potato is to be used. In the case of processing potatoes, he says, a colour evaluation must be made first and then the curing process can begin. “Tablestock and seed can cure for two to three weeks at 50 degrees F, while chip and French fry potatoes should cure for three to six weeks at 55 degrees F,” he reminds growers. “Once curing is over, growers begin the cooling process by dropping the temperature two to three degrees a week for tablestock and seed, and one to two degrees a week for processing potatoes.”When cooling is complete, the potatoes are held at the recommended temperature for each type until delivery to processors or consumers. Processing potatoes may require warming to 55 degrees F for a few weeks before delivery to improve colour, otherwise the important thing is to maintain uniform conditions. Walsh says as long as rot is controlled, many problems facing growers will be manageable. However, he admits there is little growers can do to minimize the effects of rhizoctonia or silver scurf once they have infected the storage. He maintains growers need to concern themselves more with wet rots and dry rots because, with effective cooling, curing and holding, they can be minimized.Some products will help control dry rot, but they have limited use due to resistance to the control product. Ross McQueen, a potato pathologist in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, says thiabendazole has been effective on dry rot, but resistance is beginning to appear in Western Canada. “We're currently working with chlorine dioxide to control secondary infections that come from late blight,” he says. In this trial method, “The chlorine dioxide is delivered through the humidity system.” He says the method shows promise because it reduces the populations of the bacteria that cause rots that result from late blight.Walsh recommends growers minimize dirt and mud going into storage as well as avoiding over-filling warehouses.Occasionally, growers try to fine-tune their storage operations to reduce disease by using multiple ventilation systems or opting for newer insulating materials, but the basic principle of good storage remains the same, says Walsh. “Work continues to develop expert systems to run the computers that manage the storage,” he says, “but the basics remain the best management system.”A grower who has developed his own expert system is Keith Kuhl of Southern Manitoba Potato Company of Winkler, Man. He says after trying a number of computer environmental control systems, including “a cumbersome program” from a technology company in the U.S., he met with a local electrical company and developed his own system. “Ours is a much simpler system than any others that are on the market,” he says. “We determine a long-term goal for each warehouse and the computer is adjusted to maintain temperature and humidity until the planned shipping date.”Kuhl says his company ships 12 months of the year and, as a result, his crop is managed with that in mind from the time it is planted. “In the cooling process, we know what our long-term plan is for that crop, so each bin may be treated differently depending on the market or delivery date.”However, despite an efficient, easy-to-use computer program, Kuhl relies on regular visual inspections using temperature probes and his nose to sniff out any problems. “A good manager should rely on his sensory perception,” he says. “If you detect sour smells, you know you might have some problems in that bin.” For damage control, he may use the chlorine dioxide product, Purogene, in his ventilation system, but he would prefer to eliminate potential problems before this step is needed. This product recently received an extension of its 'emergency use' registration until June 2000.Finally, the trick for successful storage is to never quit monitoring the warehouse. Take note of any 'flags' as the crop is being put into storage and adjust humidity and ventilation to minimize problems. Then, throughout the winter, maintain systems and monitor the crop to eliminate any surprises when the trucks start loading to take the crop to its final destination.Kuhl says he is always ready to adjust his plans. For example, if a problem is found in a field slated for 10 months of storage, he may decide to move those tubers out of storage earlier than he had planned. He also says he selectively harvests to reduce problems. If the season has been wet and low areas are still wet, he may choose not to harvest those areas. He might also harvest them separately and store them in a different bin where the curing/cooling process can be adjusted to meet the needs of those tubers. If he sees a higher percentage of culls in a field, he may monitor that crop more diligently when it is in storage. He suggests keeping good records at harvest, noting the conditions of harvest and the pulp temperature of the potatoes going into storage and recording any disease potential.“Storage management is like managing a completely separate crop,” says McQueen. “There are multiple factors growers need to take into account and manage the storage accordingly.” Savvy growers, like Kuhl, understand this concept and try to remain on their toes when their potatoes are in the bin although the basic storage principles remain the same.
Zebra chip is a serious disease that can kill potato plants, significantly reduce yields, and make infected tubers unmarketable. It was first documented in Mexico in 1994 and in Texas in 2000. Since then, it has spread northward through much of the Western United States, as well as to Central America and New Zealand.
A biopesticide for managing common scab would be an exciting advance for two key reasons, explains Dr. Martin Filion with the Université de Moncton.
2018 saw fewer problems with wireworm in Atlantic Canadian potato fields than past years, according to Christine Noronha, a research scientist for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada based in Prince Edward Island. But this doesn’t mean the problem has gone away.
It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish – and this potato season is not over yet. Canadian potato producers endured a tough harvest season, especially Prairie and east coast producers who were faced with abnormally cold wet weather that delayed harvest until early November.
For potato growers, one of the most concerning and costly diseases is late blight, caused by the pathogen Phytophthora infestans. Estimated to cost almost $10 billion per year worldwide, late blight spreads by spores and can spread quickly in a field. Post-harvest losses can be substantial if infected tubers are harvested and stockpiled. Like other disease pathogens, new strains and novel genotypes of P. infestans have emerged over the past few years, creating new challenges for commercial potato growers.
Scouting and monitoring help reduce yield and quality losses and can save time and money. Diseases can manifest during the growing season, or at and after harvest, therefore scouting and monitoring can help identify diseases early in the cropping or storage cycle when it may still be possible to slow down or stop their spread. Regular scouting and monitoring of potato crops throughout the growing season and during storage are essential to good integrated pest management (IPM) programs.
A number of Ontario potato growers began noticing moist grey and brown lesions around wounds and the stem ends in their harvested potatoes in the fall – the first signs of Pythium leak. Measures to minimize the potential problem were initiated because, if the crop isn’t managed carefully as it is placed into storage, a season of hard work can be lost.
Overall potato production in Canada dropped by 2.6 per cent, according to the latest estimate from the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPG).
Variable-rate applications of crop inputs can offer significant benefits for the crop, the environment and the grower’s bottom line. So Aitazaz Farooque is leading a research program that is tackling the challenge of developing practical systems that accurately determine what inputs to apply, how much to apply and where to apply them for potato production in the Maritimes.
Earlier this year, Syngenta Canada announced the launch of Orondis Gold Potato fungicide for the suppression of two common storage diseases, pink rot and Pythium leak, in potatoes.
Orondis Potato Gold has been registered as an in-furrow treatment at planting for pink rot and Pythium leak or as a foliar application to control late blight. It’s one or the other, not both. So, what’s the best choice?
Eugenia Banks, Ontario potato specialist, attended a BASF meeting discussing several pesticides for potatoes will be coming through the pipeline for producers.
BASF Canada Inc. has been granted a new label expansion for Frontier Max herbicide for control of annual grasses and key broadleaf weeds in potatoes. In addition to its expanded label on potatoes, Frontier Max is also registered for use on corn, soybeans, dry beans, onions, cabbage and grapes.
Black cutworms were found in a number of fields near Delhi, Ont., on July 26, according to Eugenia Banks' latest potato update. 
Syngenta Canada Inc. has received registration for Revus fungicide as a potato seed treatment for the suppression of pink rot and control of seed‑borne late blight in potatoes. Pink rot is a devastating, soil-borne disease caused by the pathogen Phytophthora erythroseptica that thrives in wet, poorly drained soils. Infection typically takes place pre-harvest, as the pathogen enters tubers through the stem end and lenticels. Tubers infected with pink rot will often decay during harvest and handling, which allows the pathogen to spread quickly from infected tubers to healthy tubers while in storage. “Every field has the potential for pink rot,” says Brady Code, eastern technical lead with Syngenta Canada. “It takes a very small number of infected tubers going over harvest equipment or getting by on the belt to put an entire season of work in jeopardy, and leave growers with far fewer healthy potatoes to ship.” Revus contains the active ingredient mandipropamid (Group 40), and works by protecting the daughter tubers from becoming infected with pink rot. It also provides control of seed-borne late blight (Phytophthora infestans), according to a company press release.  Revus is applied at 5.9-11.8 mL per cwt of seed (13-26 mL/100 kg of seed). Following a seed treatment application of Revus fungicide, the first foliar fungicide application should be a product that does not contain a Group 40 active ingredient. Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for mandipropamid have been established for markets including Canada, the United States, Japan, and South Korea, in support of the seed treatment use pattern.
Although still in the early stages, this weed control solution is being designed as an advanced spot-spraying precision technology that will help farmers reduce input costs and add another management tool to their integrated management systems.
Bayer has announced the launch of Sencor STZ, a powerful and innovative new herbicide for broad-spectrum control of all major annual grass and broadleaf weeds in potatoes.
“Although potato psyllids have been known in the past to cause some damage themselves, the real concern is mainly from the bacterium, and we don’t have it in Canada yet. But if our potato psyllid population continues to increase – as it has done during 2013 to 2016 – and if it becomes more continuous with U.S. populations, and if tomato and potato plants (and tubers) are shipped more frequently, then it could arrive,” says Dan Johnson, an entomologist at the University of Lethbridge. | READ MORE
The Prairie Pest Monitoring Network (PPMN), now in its 20th year, continues to provide timely crop insect pest risk and forecasting tools for growers and the industry across Western Canada. As technology and forecasting tools advance, so does the ability of the network to provide relevant insect pest information related to scouting, identification and monitoring tools and information, plus links to provincial monitoring and support relevant to the Canadian Prairies. | READ MORE
  An Islander has heeded the call to mass manufacture a trap to fight P.E.I.'s wireworm pest.
Farm Credit Canada (FCC) unveiled its new Starter Loan to help young borrowers involved in the agriculture sector access the financial capital and knowledge they need to start and grow their business.The Starter Loan Program is open to applicants from 18-25 years of age, and can provide up to $50,000 to help new entrepreneurs start their farming operations. Loan funds can be used to finance the purchase of assets such as livestock, equipment, or an existing business and is available to both primary producers and agri-businesses.Coupled with this, FCC is offering their farm management software, AgExpert Accounting Premium, for free, with the intent that young borrowers can have the financial independence and knowledge they need while establishing a solid credit history.“Farm operations are a generational business, often passed down through families with succession plans for children that want to follow in their parent’s footsteps,” said Ron Bonnett, president of The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, in response to the announcement. “But not all aspiring farmers have that kind of support or knowledge to draw from. Starting a farming operation has huge capital costs and an intense burden of knowledge. The FCC Starter Loan program can help new, young farmers break into the sector. Programs like these are pivotal for the next generation of farmers and the future of Canadian food production.”“The FCC Starter Loan shows our commitment to supporting our customers throughout their lifetime. A young borrower may have the goal of starting a cattle herd or purchasing some quota. Another may take their entrepreneurial vision to the next level with a vertical farming system or decide to purchase their first piece of equipment. It’s a start to a lifetime of possibilities,” said Micheal Hoffort, FCC president.In 2018, the Bank of Montreal (BMO) launched its own loan program for Canadian farmers 35 years of age or younger. The BMO Young Farmer Program provides higher advance rates to invest in equipment, new technologies or the overall infrastructure of a farm operation.
The federal government unveiled its 2019 budget on March 26, including several announcements that are notable for the agriculture sector.
Researchers are investigating the use of digital sensor technology and machine learning for precision management applications and integrated pest management programs for potato growers. Combining digital cameras and computer algorithms to train sensors to identify crops and crop pests can help improve application efficiency, economics and environmental sustainability.
The impact of the difficult harvest on the industry will be felt across all sectors - seed, table stock and processing. Crop stress, reduced yields and unharvested acres will all contribute to a national decline in potato production.
A shortage of potatoes across Europe is pushing up the cost of crisps and chips for British shoppers.
Some businesses that need a steady supply of potatoes — like fresh-cut fry shacks — are having problems sourcing their key ingredient.
Potato farmers planted 347,416 acres of potatoes in 2018, an increase of 0.5 per cent from 2017, according to Statistics Canada's update on potato production.
Potatoes are eating up a growing slice of Alberta's agriculture sector. The province has about 21,500 hectares of farmland dedicated to potatoes and produced just over two billion pounds of spuds last year, putting the province third in the country behind Prince Edward Island (36,000 hectares) and Manitoba (27,235 hectares). With Cavendish Farms slated to open a new Lethbridge processing plant in 2019 — adding another 3,800 hectares — the potato industry is expecting another bump in growth in the coming years. | READ MORE
Interested in becoming a potato scout? The 2018 training of potato scouts will take place on June 4, 2018 at the Holiday Inn in Guelph, Ont., from 9:39 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Eugenia Banks will lead the session and a scouting manual and handouts will be provided. To register, please email Eugenia Banks at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . 
Robert Anderson and Jill Ebbett, fifth-generation potato farmers from East Glassville, N.B., were named Atlantic’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2018.
A UPEI research project aimed at making potato farming more efficient has received funding from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. | READ MORE
Patates Dolbec, a family business created in 1967 based in Saint-Ubalde, Que., recently completed an expansion and modernization project through an investment under the Growing Forward 2 AgriInnovation Program. This project, supported with a federal government investment of up to $4.5 million, includes the purchase and installation of new robotic equipment that will sort, grade, and pack more fresh potatoes in less time, enabling the company to improve their product quality, lower operational costs and develop new markets in the United States. The company specializes in potato packaging and employs more than 125 people. The new plant is intended to give Patates Dolbec more flexibility and allows the company to track data in real-time for better decision making and a more organized workplace.   

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