Friday, December 6, 2019

Trial suggests no-till potatoes regenerate soil

November 6, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

No-till potatoes grown under a straw mulch could help farmers restore degraded arable soils cost-effectively, says an agronomist.

Revenue from potatoes used as a cash crop within a regenerative cropping rotation could offset the cost of importing straw, creating a viable route to more sustainable production, according to ProCam’s Richard Harding.

A four year trial saw a high biomass cover crop grown as an entry into the no-till potatoes. Potato tubers were then placed on the surface and a mulch created by unrolling and “fluffing up” straw from round bales at a rate of around 34t/ha.

This method produced a potato crop of 46t/ha of saleable tubers, so about 75% of a normal crop yield but without the high cost of conventional cultivations, said Mr Harding.

Tuber size range was more variable than from a crop grown conventionally, so finding a market for mid-range potatoes will help to maximise returns. Alternatively, the system could work well for producing seed potatoes.

“Following potatoes, we’ve strip tilled the ground and established wide-row crops, such as maize or pumpkins, using a drill with row cleaners to overcome the remaining straw residues.”

From this proof-of-principle study, Mr Harding believes there is enough evidence to consider commercialising the methodology. One of the biggest challenges in making soils more resilient is to build soil organic matter levels in a way that is practical and financially viable, he adds.

“If we can do this, we can capture all the inherent benefits this brings in terms of improved moisture retention, better nutrient use efficiency, reduced draft requirement at planting, and lastly the most important benefit of improving the biological activity of the soil.

“We’ve shown what’s possible on a small scale. Now we need to apply some existing technologies, such as those used in the mechanised horticultural sector, to demonstrate what is possible commercially.”

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