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Bill Menkveld, Greentronics

Maximizing Potato Yield Starts at Planting

Improved planting technology is coming to a potato field near you. Here’s why you might want to be on the leading edge of these technologies.

Uniform crop emergence is key to optimizing field management all season long. Plants that emerge consistently allow hilling, spraying, irrigation and harvest to occur at the right timing across the entire crop, promoting healthier plants, optimum tuber set and more efficient harvest.

Achieving emergence consistency depends on planting every seed at the ideal depth: a feat easier said than done given that variable soil conditions and changing planter weight can influence planting depth by multiple inches. Low- and high-tech options exist to help. Manual depth adjustments are the simplest but most inconvenient and time-consuming option available. Gauge wheels attached to each planter shoe – the norm on most Canadian potato farms – are a significant step up from manual control but add weight, complexity and significant cost, and often don’t work well in fields where heavy residue remains from the previous season.

The highest-tech and most accurate automatic depth control comes from sonar sensors, now available from multiple manufacturers. Mounted to the planter frame, these sensors measure the distance to the seedbed and automatically adjust seeding depth for every seed placed. Additionally, some systems include multiple sensors for front-to-back and side-to-side planter levelling in hilly and uneven terrain.

In addition to optimizing planting depth, tech-savvy farmers are also looking to optimize inputs based on the varying soil fertility, moisture, pH levels, topography, etc., across a field. By analyzing yield, soil and topography maps, one can identify management zones and then seed and fertilize to best align inputs with each zone’s yield potential. This variable rate (VR) application maximizes production in high yielding zones and saves input costs in lower yielding zones, ultimately earning producers extra dollars.

Today’s VR technology allows on-the-go and automatic adjusting of planting density and crop input application based on prescription maps. Successful VR application requires a newer planter with a hydraulic drive. That said, it is sometimes possible to retrofit older planters with a hydraulic drive in order to allow VR application.

While variable rate (VR) technology is becoming more widely known and accepted across most major cash crops, it is still quite new in the potato world. More scientific research is needed to understand the complex relationships between plant density, yield and quality in differing varieties.

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