Potato is the world's fourth-largest food crop, following maize, wheat, and rice and the number one vegetable crop in the world. As an important food staple, potato is available year-round as it's harvested somewhere every month of the year.
The edible part of potato plant are tubers, the swollen portion of the underground stem, which are designed to provide food for the green leafy portion of the plant. There are about 100 varieties of potato tubers. They range in size, shape, color, starch content and flavor. On the picture bellow you can see some of potato varieties.
The importance of potato in world food production shows us information that just over two-thirds of the global production are eaten directly by humans with the rest being fed to animals or used to produce starch. However, the local importance of potato is extremely variable and rapidly changing. It remains an essential crop in Europe, where per capita production is still the highest in the world, but the most rapid expansion over the past few decades has occurred in southern and eastern Asia. China led the world in potato production, and nearly a third of the world's potatoes were harvested in China and India.
There is a big gap among various countries between high and low yields, even with the same variety of potato. Potato crop yields are determined by many factors such as the crop breed, seed age and quality, crop management practices and the plant environment. Improvements in one or more of these yield determinants, and a closure of the yield gap, can be a major boost to food supply and farmer incomes in the developing world.
Tuber size and uniformity is critical for every market, whether it is fresh potatoes, seed or processing crops. There are many ways how farmer can prolong a healthy leaf canopy and thus increase the average tuber size and their number. One of the ways is with correct balanced nutrition with major plant nutrients.
Each plant nutrient has its role in potato farming:
- Nitrogen - important in fuelling growth and providing high yields, it ensures optimal photosynthate production in the leaves
- Phosphate - foliar phosphate, applied just before tuber initiation increases total tuber number while applied after tuber initiation increases tuber size thus increasing tuber yields
- Potassium - potato plants absorb large quantities of potassium throughout the growing season and it is critical for high yields and it has also influence on the numbers of tubers which are set
- Calcium - applications of calcium during bulking may increase tuber size
- Magnesium - is needed during tuber bulking and if supply is restricted, tuber size and yield will both be reduced
Beside proper fertilization management, there are other crop management practices for increasing potato tuber size and number;
- Planting as early as possible to extend the length of the growing season in areas where daylight hours are limited
- Planting physiologically aged potatoes that emerge quickly
- Planting at optimum soil temperatures to ensure fast crop emergence
- Use of irrigation, crop nutrition and crop protection methods to ensure maximum canopy life and unlimited tuber growth
- Desiccation at the right stage to meet market requirement
- Selecting the right variety
- Spacing seed to ensure an optimum number of stems per square meter
- Using crop protection inputs - such as herbicides and nematicides - to ensure the crop grows relatively unhindered
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