Using less water to grow more potatoes

September 1, 2011

Research conducted in part at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed that in some production systems, planting potatoes in flat beds can increase irrigation water use efficiency.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) agricultural engineer Bradley King, who works at the ARS Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory in Kimberly, Idaho, was one of the scientists who led these studies. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA commitment to enhancing .

When potato production started in Idaho more than 100 years ago, farmers seeded their crops in ridged rows and watered their plants by channeling surface irrigation to flow through the furrows between the rows. Even though most commercial potato producers in the Pacific Northwest now irrigate their crops with sprinklers, they still typically use ridged-row planting systems.

But this planting configuration allows irrigation runoff to collect in the furrow and percolate below the crop . This means that the is unavailable to the crops, and can also lead to increased nitrate leaching from the soil.

King and his partners conducted a series of studies on planting potatoes in flat beds instead of ridged rows. One two-year study compared ridge-row planting systems, a 5-row planting configuration on a raised bed where the plant rows were 26 inches apart, and a 7-row planting configuration on a raised bed where the plant rows were 18 inches apart. Another 5-year study on approximately 6,900 acres only compared ridged-row systems and 5-row raised-bed systems.

The researchers found that using the flat bed system increased yields by an average of 6 percent, even though 5 percent less water was used for . This meant that using flat beds instead of ridged rows for potato production led to an overall 12 percent increase in use efficiency. The gains were attributed to several factors, especially the probability that potatoes in flat beds improves water and nitrogen use efficiency because more water reaches the potato roots.

These findings, which were published in 2011 in the American Journal of Potato Research, could help commercial farmers increase yields and profits, save valuable water resources, and reduce nitrate leaching.

Explore further: Calibrating corn production in potato country

More information: Read more about this work in the September 2011 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Related Stories

Calibrating corn production in potato country

August 15, 2011

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are studying soil moisture levels and other field dynamics to help Pacific Northwest famers maximize the production of corn, a relatively new regional crop that helps ...

Comparing soybean production methods

August 23, 2011

In the Mid-South, twin-row soybean production is becoming a popular growing technique for soybean producers. An estimated 80% of the total hectares grown in the Mississippi Delta are planted in this configuration. While growers ...

Early cotton planting requires irrigation

September 9, 2010

Cotton growers can produce more cotton if they plant early, but not without irrigation. That's the finding of an article published in the September-October 2010 Agronomy Journal, a publication of the American Society of Agronomy.

In Organic Cover Crops, More Seeds Means Fewer Weeds

January 26, 2010

( -- Farmers cultivating organic produce often use winter cover crops to add soil organic matter, improve nutrient cycling and suppress weeds. Now these producers can optimize cover crop use by refining seeding ...

Recommended for you

Study shows how giraffe assassin bugs outwit spider prey

October 26, 2016

(—A biologist at Macquarie University in Australia has discovered the secret behind the giraffe assassin's ability to catch and kill spiders in their webs. In his paper published on the open access site Royal Society ...

New analysis of big data sheds light on cell functions

October 26, 2016

Researchers have developed a new way of obtaining useful information from big data in biology to better understand—and predict—what goes on inside a cell. Using genome-scale models, researchers were able to integrate ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.