After three long years the Ontario Potato Board welcomed growers back to its annual conference on March 2, 2023 in Guelph, Ont. The one-day conference featured several sessions talking about cover cropping and soil health.
“Most of the sessions today are around the themes of soil structure, building organic matte,” Shawn Brenn, Ontario Potato Board chair, said in an interview. “I think we sometimes get a negative lens, but the work that has been going on for years and the ongoing efforts of growers seem to really improve the great work that’s already being done.”
The first full day of the conference featured presentations on:
- A presentation on cover crops from Anne Verhallen with OMAFRA
- Ryan Barrett from the Prince Edward Island Potato Board presenting on cover cropping in potatoes and combatting wireworms using buckwheat
- MHPEC’s Zack Frederick presenting on verticillium wilt management with mustard biofumigation
- A grower panel on cover cropping featuring Anslem Lunkhuijzen, Chuck Emre and Kate Vander Zaag
- A presentation on seed potato prep from Jeff Miller with Miller Research
- Mark VanOostrum and Patrick Dol from WD Potato presenting on soil moisture monitoring
- Peter Vander Zaag with Sunrise Potato presenting on producing nuclear mini tubers from tissue culture
- A potato virus Y presentation from Mathuresh Singh with Agricultural Certification Services in New Brunswick
- You need to do maintenance on your soil, the same as you do on your machinery — this where cover crops come into play, said Verhallen.
- You can’t spray your way out of herbicide resistance weeds, but with cover crops it’s a plant so you can’t overuse it when it comes to weed control, Verhallen said.
- Cover crops can be really simple or extremely complex — it’s whatever you want and works for you, Verhallen said.
- The growers planting mustard and radish are loving the tilth they’re seeing in their soils. It’s hard to put an economic value on this, Barrett said.
- Brassicas and spring cereals will winter kill usually, so planting them for cover crops wont slow down spring planting and field prep, Barrett said.
- If there’s a cover crop that you can also get economic value out of, such a selling alfalfa for hay, take advantage of it and grow it, Barrett said.
- Kate Vander Zaag said there’s no mistakes on their farm there’s just unplanned experiments. When she has been disappointed with cover crops it’s because of not being to get the cover crop establishment she’s wanted in the fall.
- Lankhuijzen said they’ve had trouble with termination of their cover crops, with fall rye there’s been times where they should have top killed it in the fall and didn’t get around to it and then it’s too wet in the spring to get into the field and terminate it.
- Kate Vander Zaag says red clover can get away from you and it can be hard to terminate. While the potatoes may love it, it’s not worth it, so they’re moving away from using it.
- Clean your seed storage and any trucks you transport you seed in before putting your seed in there to get rid of any possible disease threats, Miller said.
- Don’t forget to sterilize your seed cutters. At the bare minimum clean them whenever you switch to a new seed lot but cleaning every 20 minutes is ideal, Miller said.
- In tissue culture all leafs are simple round leafs, important to keep them in the juvenile stage and then they’ll grow into normal potato plants, Peter Vander Zaag said.