Production
Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says the lack of rain will take a toll on potato yields in parts of the province — particularly West Prince.

Over the next week most growers across P.E.I. should start harvesting and storing potatoes, Donald said. Farmers will get a better idea of the yield closer to Halloween when the harvest ends. READ MORE
Published in News
In September, potato storage began in the Netherlands. Many crops, including potatoes, are harvested. These potatoes are then stored for several months.

A new atomiser, specifically for sprout inhibitors during this 'storage period', has been designed.

The atomiser, known as the Synofog, uses a new technique - electro-thermal atomisation. The advantage of this new piece of apparatus is that it does not have an open flame. This ensures its safe use with all kinds of sprout inhibitors. READ MORE
Published in Technology
Irving-owned Cavendish Farms is opening a new $360-million frozen potato-processing plant in Lethbridge, bringing about 400 jobs to southern Alberta.

Company president Robert K. Irving said it is a big deal for agriculture in Alberta.

"Our business will grow from 6,000 acres of potatoes today, with our present land, up to over 15,000 acres," Irving said at the new plant's groundbreaking earlier this month. "Those 9,000 acres, it's an opportunity for the local farmers, the growers in the region, to really look at the opportunity to grow and expand their operations here and have a long-term future with potatoes." READ MORE
Published in News
The potato person who said many years ago "A potato storage is not a hospital" was absolutely right. Diseased or bruised tubers do not get better in storage. Tubers bruised at harvest are easily invaded by soft rot or Fusarium dry rot, which can cause serious economic losses in storage.

Harvest management, in large part, is bruise management. Bruising also affects tuber quality significantly. In order to harvest potatoes with minimum tuber damage, growers need to implement digging, handling and storage management practices that maintain the crop quality for as long as possible after harvest.

Assuming all harvest and handling equipment are mechanically ready to harvest the crop with minimum bruising, there are several tips to preserve the quality of potatoes crop during harvest:
  1. Timely Vine Killing. Killing the vines when tubers are mature makes harvesting easier by reducing the total vine mass moving through the harvester. This allows an easier separation of tubers from vines.
  2. Timely Harvest. Potatoes intended for long term storage should not be harvested until the vines have been dead for at least 14 days to allow for full skin set to occur.
  3. Soil Moisture. Optimal harvest conditions are at 60-65% available soil moisture.
  4. Tuber Pulp Temperature. Optimal pulp temperatures for harvest are from 500F to 600F. Proper pulp temperature is critical; tubers are very sensitive to bruising when the pulp temperature is below 450F. If pulp temperatures are above 650F, tubers become very susceptible to soft rot and Pythium leak. Pulp temperatures above 70°F increase the risk of pink rot tremendously no matter how gently you handle the tubers if there is inoculum in the soil.
  5. Tuber Hydration. An intermediate level of tuber hydration results in the least bruising. Overhydrated tubers dug from wet soil are highly sensitive to shatter bruising especially when the pulp temperature is below 450F. In addition, tubers harvested from cold, wet soil are more difficult to cure and more prone to breakdown in storage. Slightly dehydrated tubers dug from dry soil are highly sensitive to blackspot bruising.
  6. Reducing Blackspot Bruising. Irrigate soil that is excessively dry before digging to prevent tuber dehydration and blackspot bruising.
  7. Bruise Detection Devices. Try to keep the volume of soil and tubers moving through the digger at capacity at all points of the machine. If bruising is noticeable, use a bruise detection device to determine where in the machinery the tubers are being bruised.
  8. Do not harvest potatoes from low, poorly drained areas of a field where water may have accumulated and/or dig tests have indicated the presence of tubers infected with late blight.
  9. Train all employees on how to reduce bruising. Harvester operators must be continually on the lookout for equipment problems that may be damaging tubers. Ideally, growers should implement a bruise management program that includes all aspects of potato production from planting through harvest.
  10. Harvest when day temperatures are not too warm to avoid tuber infections. Storage rots develop very rapidly at high temperatures and spread easily in storage. If potatoes are harvested at temperatures above 27o C and cool off slowly in storage, the likelihood of storage rots is increased. If warm weather is forecast, dig the crop early in the morning when it is not so warm.
Published in Harvesting
All the isolates of late blight -Phytophthora infestans tested were US-23 for 2017. No new late blight incidence has been reported in the last week, which has generally been dry, warm and windy. The 7-day DSV accumulation for late blight risk has been essentially minimal. Harvest has begun in many areas.

The warm conditions has slowed the harvest of some processing fields, to prevent bringing warm tubers into storage. The seasonal accumulated precipitation has been 50-70% of normal in the potato growing areas (Fig1). The soils are generally on the dry side (Fig 2), but irrigated fields have sufficient moisture for a good harvest. READ MORE
Published in Diseases
From planting and digging potatoes to observing insects feeding on plants to learning about coloured spuds, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Fredericton Research and Development Centre opened its doors and wowed visitors with plenty to see and do.
Published in News
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) have completed the food, feed and environmental safety assessments of J.R. Simplot Company’s second generation of Innate potatoes. The authorizations enable the potatoes to be imported, planted and sold in Canada, complementing the three varieties of Innate first generation potatoes that received regulatory approval last year.
Published in Traits and Genetics

Researchers are hoping Canadian potato growers will soon be able to use an innovative approach to control wireworms. This method uses just a few grams of insecticide per hectare applied to cereal seeds that are planted along with untreated seed potatoes. It provides very good wireworm control for the whole growing season, with a lower environmental risk than currently available insecticide options.

Published in Crop Protection
Rob Green, a potato farmer in Bedeque, is taking cover crop rotations to a new level. In the past, he grew barley, canola and hay as his rotational crops.
Published in Soil
There’s no current technology to detect acrylamide precursors quickly and without destroying the spud, but a new technique developed by Lien Smeesters from the University of Brussels might help weed out potentially toxic potatoes before they even go to market. In Smeesters’ design, a laser uses infrared light to detect acrylamide, which scatters the light in a unique pattern, instructing the machine to knock the toxic potato out of circulation. | READ MORE

Published in Diseases
U.S. President Donald Trump swore off plans to cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement on Wednesday, after a day rife with speculation that he could be on the verge of threatening to obliterate the seminal trade deal.| READ MORE

Published in News

Nov. 29, 2016, Canada – Canada's potato production was 105.2 million hundredweight (4.7 million tonnes) in 2016, up 0.5 per cent from 2015, according to the latest report from Statistics Canada.

Production in British Columbia increased 41.8 per cent to 315 hundredweight per acre. Ontario, which experienced extreme summer heat and drought, saw production and yield fall 17.2 per cent compared with a year earlier.

Harvested area edged down 0.2 per cent from 2015.

In 2016, Prince Edward Island represented 24.5 per cent of total potato production and Manitoba represented 21.3 per cent.

Published in Harvesting

August 23, 2016 - Approximately 250 growers, crop consultants and potato-industry personnel gathered at the 2016 Ontario Potato Field Day on Aug. 18 in Alliston, Ont., to see the latest potato equipment, new potato varieties and a trade show. The day was hosted by HJV Equipment, supported by the Ontario Potato Board and organized by Eugenia Banks, Ontario potato specialist.

There were over 100 new potato varieties on display; varieties for the fresh, processing and specialty markets. For the fresh market, the variety Actrice (Real Potatoes) caught the attention of many growers because of its attractive tubers with smooth, shiny skin. Actrice is an early, yellow-fleshed variety that is very tasty. Primabelle and Panamera (HZPC Americas) are two yellow-fleshed varieties that got good reviews from potato growers.

Among the russet potatoes for the French fry market, Alta Strong (Real Potatoes) and Pomerelle Russet (Pommes de Terre Laurentiennes) were well rated by growers.

There was interest in Kalmia (La Patate Lac Saint-Jean) a white-fleshed, fresh-market variety that could also be used as a French fryer.

Double Fun (HZPC Americas) had the nicest skin among the purple-fleshed varieties. It also has very good culinary traits.

Among the trade show exhibitors, the Quebec Company Lab’ Eau-Air-Sol demonstrated the use of spore traps for foliar diseases of vegetables.

Douglas Ag. Services provided the latest information on chloropicrin application to control soil-borne diseases. Maximum H2O System (Mississauga) restructures water and minerals at a molecular level to make them more bio-available to plants.

The displays of Gorman Controls and GRB Ag. Technologies focused on storage management.Potato growers attend this important annual event because they obtain practical, up-to-date information on varieties and the latest potato-production technology that allows them to remain competitive.

The day is also a chance for growers to meet in a friendly, informal setting to discuss problems.

Published in News

August 15, 2016 - New late blight finds were reported on potato from Carman, Winkler areas and on tomato crops east of East of Portage and east of Highway #75, according to Vikram Bisht. Frequent fungicide applications are being applied to control the disease; and in one case the tomato plants have been pulled out and destroyed.

Samples have been collected for strain identification. All of the previous samples, tested by Lethbridge Research and Development Center were determined to be US-23 strain.

"There is increasing metalaxyl insensitivity in the Pi from these samples and the use of Ridomil would probably have only marginal benefit," says Bisht.

It is important, he continues, to scout for late blight, especially in low lying, irrigation pivot center, wheel tracks of irrigation systems (guns/pivots), tree-line protected areas and under hydro-power lines (areas where applicators may have difficulty covering).

It is also critical at this time to monitor potato and tomato plants in home gardens. The DSVs (late blight risk values) accumulated over 7-days at various weather stations suggest mostly moderate risk in most of the province. There is forecast for rain and risk of thunderstorms today afternoon in many potato growing areas. Full fungicide coverage of foliage in high risk areas should be maintained.

Due to continued high moisture levels in many fields, it may be helpful to harvest the low lying areas last, so it will be easier to manage the storages.

Also, a post-harvest treatment with phosphorus acid / phosphite fungicide could be considered for such fields, adds Bisht.

Published in Diseases

Due to hot, dry conditions, farmers in Norfolk County, Ont., have used irrigation in an effort to save the crop. But with less than half an inch of rain in eight weeks, irrigation has been no use, and the local yield could be down by 50 per cent. | READ MORE

Published in Soil

So far in the project, the drone has collected imagery from about 50 potato fields in New Brunswick. Photo courtesy of Bernie Zebarth, AAFC.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are becoming increasingly popular with crop growers as an easy way to take a look at their fields. Now, researchers are fine-tuning the use of imagery from drones as a more advanced tool for precision management of Canadian potato fields.

This work with drone imagery is part of a major five-year project to boost potato yields. “About three years ago, Potatoes New Brunswick and McCain Foods Canada came to me and said they were having issues in terms of potato productivity in Eastern Canada,” says Bernie Zebarth, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre. “The data across North America show a slow but steady average increase over time in potato yields, going up about five hundredweight per acre per year. But in Eastern Canada, that is not happening – the crop insurance data for New Brunswick suggest our yields are either stagnant or perhaps even decreasing slightly over time.

“That’s a serious concern for industry. For example, a lot of New Brunswick’s potato production is for French fries for export. To export, you have to be competitive. If you start losing yield, then you become less competitive. So they asked us to work with them to see what could be done about it.”

The project aims to increase yields by addressing the variability in productivity within potato fields. “The project has three main objectives. First, can we develop ways of mapping the variability in plant growth and yield in potato fields? Second, for the areas of the fields that are not performing well, can we identify why? And third, can we overcome those yield limitations?” Zebarth says.

“In Eastern Canada, precision agriculture is an exciting new area for us, and this is part of what we’re doing in the project,” he adds. So, they are trying out tools like drones and yield monitors to map in-field variability as a first step towards managing that variability through precision agriculture. According to Yves Leclerc, McCain’s director of agronomy for North America, managing in-field variability is key to improving yields and profitability for potato growers. “We need to understand profitability not only at the field level but also the subfield level, and manage fields at that level. It is no longer enough to manage a field based on the average conditions; we need to be more precise [to achieve a field’s full yield potential].”

The project’s initial phase, in 2013 and 2014, took place in New Brunswick only. For 2015 to 2017, the research is also taking place in Prince Edward Island and Manitoba. For the first two years, Potatoes New Brunswick, McCain Foods Canada, AAFC and New Brunswick’s Enabling Agricultural Research and Innovation program funded the project. With the expanded project, two additional agencies have come on board: the PEI Potato Board and the Manitoba Horticulture Productivity Enhancement Centre Inc. The project’s lead agency is Potatoes New Brunswick.

To try to remedy yield limitations, the project team is looking at a wide variety of practices such as compost applications, fumigation, fall cover crops, nurse crops, furrow de-compaction and, in Manitoba, variable rate irrigation.

“We’re looking at everything from drones and drone imagery, to the thousands of holes we’re digging to look at soil compaction, to compost applications, to soil salinity – everything. We want to make sure that there’s literally no stone unturned,” says Matt Hemphill, executive director of Potatoes New Brunswick. “There is no one-size-fits-all and no magic bullet in this process because we have such variability in soil and weather conditions.”

Drone imagery – advantages and hurdles
A drone with a specialized camera and advanced software can be used to map in-field variability. The drone flies over the field in parallel passes to capture the entire field in a series of overlapping images. The camera can be set up to capture particular wavelengths of light; for instance, near-infrared wavelengths may be of interest because healthy plants reflect more near-infrared light than stressed or dead plants. So a near-infrared image of a field could potentially be used to identify patches where the plants are stressed due to problems like disease or low nutrient levels.

“For instance, if we could use the imagery to identify the parts of a field that aren’t deficient in certain nutrients, then a potato producer wouldn’t need to waste time, energy and money in putting fertilizer products on those parts of the field,” Hemphill says. “Imagine, instead of broadcasting X number of tonnes per acre of lime across the whole field, you maybe only have to apply it to 25 per cent of the field. You can imagine how quickly those savings would add up. The same goes for other input costs.”

Zebarth explains that, before drones became available, the main way to map vegetation patterns was with satellite imagery, which has advantages and disadvantages compared to drone imagery. “One advantage of satellite imagery is that it’s calibrated [so the imagery data is easier to use in advanced analysis]. But there are two big problems with satellites. The first one is that you can’t control when they capture imagery of your field – they only fly over the field every so often, and they can’t see through the clouds. In New Brunswick, we have a lot of cloud cover. The other disadvantage of satellite imagery is its low resolution; a ‘pixel’, an individual point of information, represents an area of maybe five by five to 30 by 30 metres in size [on the ground]. So we’ve never used satellite imagery very much to look at crops here in the East.”

Drones avoid those disadvantages. The user can choose where and when to capture the imagery, as long the operator flies the drone safely and legally. (Anyone operating a drone in Canada must follow the rules set out in the Canadian Aviation Regulations and must respect all federal, provincial/territorial and municipal laws related to trespassing and privacy.) Cloud cover isn’t as much of an issue for drones because they fly below the clouds. And drone imagery is at a much higher resolution, about seven to 10 centimetres, depending on how high the drone is flown.

These advantages are making drones popular with crop growers. “People are already using drones, mostly for qualitative assessment. Drones are fantastic for that,” Zebarth notes. “One such application is to have a visual look at your field. For example, if you fly the drone when the crop is beginning to emerge, you can really see the field’s variability – where the crop is already emerging and doing well, where it is just emerging, and where it hasn’t emerged yet.”

Another qualitative application is to target field scouting. Zebarth explains, “In the image of the field, you might see a patch that looks different. The imagery won’t tell you what the problem is; it will just tell you something is there. So you can go out to the field and look at that patch to identify the problem.”

However, the project team wants to take drone imagery a step further. “We’d like to get to where it’s a more sophisticated tool,” Zebarth says. “We want to determine quantitative differences, like trying to develop relationships between the imagery and things like yield and leaf area index, and so on.”

McCain Foods has its own drone, camera and software for this type of geo-referenced field mapping, and it has trained two of its employees to operate the drone, one as a pilot and the other as a spotter. For the project, they are flying the drone over commercial potato fields in New Brunswick. So far, they’ve collected imagery for about 50 fields.

They fly the drone over each field several times during the growing season. The first flight is when the soil is still bare, so they can look for differences in soil moisture and drainage across the field. The subsequent flights are timed to capture the crop during early and late emergence, mid-season, and early and late senescence. Zebarth says, “So we’re looking at: do we have variation in the soil, the early canopy growth, and the canopy die-down.”

One hurdle in their quantitative use of drone imagery is to correctly stitch together all the individual images from the drone’s flight over the field. “The drone might take perhaps 50 to 100 different images of the field. Those images have to be pieced together, which is called ‘mosaicking.’ If you have a discrete object, like a house or a fence in the images, mosaicking is not too difficult because you can easily find that object in the different images and align them. But if all you have in the image are rows of potato plants, there is not much to align with,” Zebarth notes. “There is mosaicking software to do that, but it’s not perfect. So we’re working with one of the drone companies to figure out how to get the images almost perfectly lined up so you can get down to looking almost at the [individual] plants.”

A second hurdle relates to calibration. “The drone’s camera is actually measuring how bright the light is in different bands; it is taking pictures that have red, green and blue, like a regular camera, but it may also have near-infrared. So it gives you a number from one to 255 in each of those bands, but it is just a relative number. To calculate things like vegetation indices, such as the NDVI [normalized difference vegetation index], you can use a relative brightness to get a relative value of the NDVI. However, you have to convert it to a reflectance value to get a true value for the NDVI that you can compare across fields or measurement dates. That’s where it has to be calibrated,” Zebarth explains.

The researchers are making good progress with overcoming both of these hurdles. Plus, they are testing over 20 different vegetation indices to determine what each index is sensitive to and which ones work best for potato fields in New Brunswick.

“For instance, one index might be mostly sensitive to how much coverage there is of green leaves, whereas another one might be more sensitive to how much chlorophyll is in the leaves,” Zebarth says. They’ve already found that the NDVI, a common index for measuring vegetation cover, isn’t the best choice for potato crops. “For potatoes, the NDVI reading initially goes up as the canopy develops, but after the canopy reaches a certain density, the NDVI becomes insensitive.” Some of the other indices don’t have that drawback.

Once the researchers complete this work in the coming months, they’ll have a much better idea of how they can use the drone imagery. The information from this work could also help agronomists, crop advisors and growers with an interest in quantitative uses of drone imagery in potato production.

“In the long run, drone imagery is going to be a tool to add to our arsenal of tools, for sure,” Leclerc says.

Progress on agronomic findings
One of the project’s key agronomic findings so far is the degree of variability in potato fields. “We are seeing a lot more variability in our fields than we had expected. Although some fields are relatively uniform, other fields have pretty dramatic variation,” Zebarth says.

The results so far indicate that, in New Brunswick, much of the variability is due to the soil. “What we think has been going on is a gradual decline in soil health over decades,” Zebarth says.

The wet spring in 2013 emphasized some of this soil variability. He says, “When we visited the field sites, we would see places in some fields where there wasn’t a single plant. It looked like problems with poor drainage or loss of soil structure or low soil organic matter. So that is why a lot of the remedies that we’re trying are ways to improve soil health, like compost applications or changing crop rotations.”  

Leclerc notes, “The biggest challenge is determining the underlying causes of the differences in productivity. In some cases it’s fairly easy to pinpoint, especially [with the wet conditions] in the project’s first year, but in other cases it is a lot more difficult. We are examining that aspect with very precise soil and subsoil analysis.”

Once a field’s variability is mapped and the causes of its differences in productivity are understood, then the field’s management zones can be defined and managed. “We can work on those management zones to improve the limitations, which are most likely soil-related. Or, if that cannot be done, the idea is to manage the different zones differently. So perhaps we might back off in terms of inputs on the lower productivity zones and reallocate those resources to the higher productivity zones, and look at changing the spacing perhaps on the higher productivity zones to take advantage of their higher yielding capabilities,” Leclerc says.

After the trials with the various management practices are completed, the project team will analyze the results to see which practices provide the most consistent benefits, how effective they are, and under what conditions they are most effective, and to determine which options make the most economic sense.  

“At the end of the day, we need to look at the input costs and profitability,” Hemphill says. “The outcome needs to work for the growers and the processors in order for the industry to remain sustainable.” 

 

Published in Technology

March 14, 2016, Prince Edward Island – Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada entomologist Dr. Christine Noronha has designed a simple and environmentally green trap using hardware store items that could be a major breakthrough in the control of wireworms, an increasingly destructive agricultural pest on PEI and across Canada. 

The Noronha Elaterid Light Trap, or “NELT”, is made with three pieces - a small solar-powered spotlight, a plastic white cup and a piece of screening. The light is set close to the ground to attract the source of the wireworms, the female click beetles that emerge from the ground in May and June. Each of these beetles can lay between 100 and 200 eggs that produce the larvae known as wireworms. In a six-week test with 10 traps, more than 3,000 females were captured in the plastic cups, preventing the birth of up to 600,000 wireworms. The screening prevents beneficial predator insects from being caught in the trap.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Office of Intellectual Property is trademarking the trap name and design and work is underway to find a manufacturer who might be interested in mass-producing the trap.

The NELT is the latest in a series of wireworm control measures being developed by a team that includes Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the PEI Potato Board, the PEI Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Cavendish Farms, the PEI Horticultural Association, growers and consulting agronomists.  Wireworms live in the soil and drill their way through tuber and root crops like potatoes and carrots. The PEI Potato Board estimated wireworm damage to the province’s potato crop alone at $6 million in 2014.

To learn more about the NELT, be sure to sign up for an exclusive webinar with Christine Noronha, hosted by Potatoes in Canada magazine, on May 12. 

Published in Technology

March 11, 2016, Edmonton, Alta – Mike Harding doesn’t usually favour sensational titles for the presentations he gives to farmers.

On March 1, the Alberta Agriculture crop pathologist made an exception with his talk to potato growers on Fusarium: The Silent Storage Killer. He said fusarium in potatoes “flies under the radar” be-cause it can develop slowly in stored product and do major damage before it is noticed. READ MORE

Published in Diseases

March 9, 2016, Prince Edward Island – The Island’s staple potato industry may be experiencing a slump, writes The Guardian. At least one Island potato grower who recently attended the International Potato Expo says farms like his are struggling to sell potatoes because there are just too many of them. | READ MORE

Published in Markets and Marketing

A New Brunswick researcher says that despite the common perception that water and wind are responsible for erosion, tillage erosion is actually the leading cause of soil degradation in most cultivated fields in Canada.

Li Sheng, a hydrology/croplands and water management expert with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has been analyzing the causes of erosion in order to develop management recommendations.

His message is surprisingly positive.

“Our perception is that soil erosion is really bad in Eastern and Atlantic Canada, but it’s actually getting much better,” he says. “People are more aware of erosion, and a lot of structures have been put in place to reduce it. However, in critical times, you’ll still see a lot of erosion happening and erosion remains the number one cause of soil degradation in many fields.”

For the past few years, Sheng has led a research team conducting several studies in erosion. One study comparing water, wind and tillage erosion, conducted in partnership with David Lobb, a University of Manitoba soil researcher, found that wind erosion is much less severe than water erosion in Eastern Canada. While it is more damaging in Western Canada, wind erosion in most fields is still not at the same level as water or tillage erosion.

The most worrying aspect of erosion on the East Coast, says Sheng, is the combined effect of water and tillage erosion.

These days, Sheng’s team is testing the hypothesis that water and tillage erosion work together to create a more severe problem – that tillage erosion actually offers a mechanism for soil to leave the field by water erosion.  

“If you have gullies going down the field, cutting through the soil to the edge of the field, if you till the field and fill those gullies in, in the next major rainfall event, all of this loose soil will be washed away,” he explains. “We are thinking that in Eastern Canada this is probably one of the major mechanisms of the transportation of sediments going out of the field.”

In the summer of 2015, Sheng and his team set up multiple research sites on Prince Edward Island and in New Brunswick. A gauging station on the edge of the field will measure sediment and take water samples. The research team also put cameras and erosion pins at different points in the fields to analyze surface changes due to erosion.

The study will run three years to allow the researchers time to collect solid data during potato rotation schedules.

Maintaining erosion structures
Sheng’s team has developed a list of best management practices to help growers minimize erosion. Conservation tillage and mulching are both key strategies, along with erosion management structures such as terracing and grassed waterways.

The latter might not be commonly used in Western Canada, but Sheng says it’s difficult to find potato fields on the East Coast that do not employ them.

The problem is a lack of maintenance.

“A lot of these structures are not very well maintained – there’s certain maintenance that has to be done to keep them functioning,” Sheng says.

Diversion terraces (sometimes called contour terraces) are one good example. On hilly land, diversion terraces break up long, sloping fields into smaller sections with shorter slopes, to slow down and divert runoff. “The longer the slope, the higher the water erosion, and the greater potential for eroded soil to be carried away by that high-power runoff,” he says. Terracing can vastly mitigate this problem. But growers should ensure they use terraces to their maximum potential – and don’t cut corners.

“Above the terrace berm, where the water comes down, there is supposed to be a one- to three-metre-wide channel, or runoff ditches, to allow runoff to flow at a non-erosive speed and sediments to deposit. However, many farmers will farm right to the edge of the berm, because allowing it means a loss of acreage and total production,” Sheng says.

Sometimes farmers are slow to clear out runoff ditches, but once filled, they lose their function. Runoff during heavy rainfall events can cut across the terraces.

Another example is the use of grassed waterways as informal roadways for field access, Sheng says. Grassed waterways are used as roadways “by maybe 90 per cent of farmers,” resulting in severe soil compaction, which can lead to reduced water infiltration and reduced function of grassed waterways on erosion control.

But the number one cause of soil erosion in many fields – tillage erosion – is the problem growers should focus on addressing.

“Some farmers do recreational tillage – when they have some free time, they like to go out in the field and do additional tillage that is not needed,” Sheng says. But growers should reduce disturbance to the soil as much as possible, which means eliminating unnecessary tillage, and any other unnecessary disturbances during seeding or harvesting.

“Reduce the frequency of tillage, the intensity of tillage, and the variability of tillage – the speed and depth,” he says. “Keep it as uniform as you can. Controlling speed and depth across the landscape will reduce tillage erosion.”

Most of all, growers should take a “landscape perspective” to erosion control, Sheng says, considering the entire system rather than individual fields and strategically employing best practices.

Published in Soil
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