Potatoes in Canada

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Fast-food fries come with ecological impacts

The popularity of Russet Burbank potatoes, grown to meet demand for fast-food French fries, is having an ecological impact because their long growing season requires lots of fertilizer and fungicide. 


February 10, 2017
By Ralph C. Martin Guelph Mercury Tribune

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To grow these bulked-up tubers, farmers are encouraged to apply excessive applications of nitrogen fertilizer, a product requiring unusually high energy inputs to manufacture. The recommendations have been designed to provide easy nitrogen access to the tubers. However, the extra nitrogen fertilizer not taken up by plants in wet, late season soils can transform to nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Nitrogen fertilizer remaining in the soil also transforms to nitrate, leaching into ground water.

In order to optimize the potential of Russet Burbank potatoes (140 days from seeding to harvest) to attain maximum size, they are harvested as late as possible.

In P.E.I. potato country, a late harvest is in October. By then the window shuts for establishing a cover crop to draw up the remaining nitrogen fertilizer not used by potatoes. The lack of a cover crop also leaves the disturbed soil exposed to erosive wind gusts (up to 90 km/hour) in the fall and winter and to erosive running water after snow melt the next spring.

As the potato season lengthens, there is also a higher risk of potatoes being infected with blight. Fungicides are increasingly applied to prevent or contain blight as harvest is delayed, with concomitant stresses on ground water quality. | You can read the full article here.


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