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Climate change and potato crop production

Climate change and potato crop production

There is a vast diversity of foods that are part of the daily diet of human beings around the globe, such as potatoes. However, over the last years climate change has been affecting potatoes crop production, which makes it necessary for our intervention to address the issue carefully, especially to figure out what alternatives can be implemented to prevent a significant decline in the harvest of this tuber, which in turn may compromise food security in the near future.

After wheat, corn and rice, the potato is the fourth food crop in importance worldwide, being one of the most produced and consumed foods in developing countries.

According to data provided by the FAO, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the cultivation of potatoes reached a production of more than 352 million tonnes by 2011. However, since it is such an important product, it is vital to consider the impact of climate change on the production of potato crops.

Consequences of climate change on potato crops production

There are cases, such as Nepal for example, where some farmers have experienced significant losses in the production of potato crops as a result of climate change. Unusual snowfall took place in February and hail storms occurred during the summer, which caused the destruction of the majority of the harvest on two occasions.

Agricultural producers, not only from Nepal but from other potato-producing regions around the world, such as Peru, are concerned that these unusual weather events are becoming more frequent.

In the case of the highlands of Peru, there were areas where the temperature dropped during the growing season to such an extent that it reached up to 86ºF below zero, which generated an important loss in the yield of potato crops.

When temperature levels have increased considerably, resulting in drought, there are also compromising situations for crops, so it is common to see the soils crack when they lose a lot of water, causing the loss of the nutrients needed for crops to thrive. We recommend you to read our post regarding crops in drought conditions.

Some people are still convinced that these are only isolated facts. However, the theory of climate change is becoming more relevant since there are very noticeable transformations in terms of climate processes that are difficult to hide or oversee: unusual floods, storms or extreme temperatures in areas where that never happened before.

How to deal with the impact of climate change on crops

Today, many agricultural producers have done their best to find alternatives that allow them to adapt to these transformations and cope with the increase in water stress, changes in the distribution and intensity of rains, hail, frost or very frequent snowfall. However, the fact is that the effect of climate change on crop production seems to be accelerating every day and this forces producers to face big problems. In this sense, we also recommend reading our post regarding how to improve water consumption in agriculture.

The increase in temperature can be both a blessing and a curse, since it causes more plant transpiration, thus increasing the demand for water by plants, causing water stress in the drier areas and ultimately decreasing the yield of the crops. In this way, the temperature in the evenings is essential for the starch formation necessary for the tubers, being such ideal temperature between 59 and 64,4 ºF, since the development of tubers is threatened when it exceeds 71,6 ºF.

Researchers hope that, against all odds, climate change will have a positive impact on yields in lands located at higher altitudes, since the increase in temperature is managing to improve the production of potato crops in these areas, so an expansion of area under production could take place there. However, if the intention is to produce potatoes as a winter crop, it would be wise to consider the challenges that may arise when growing in even higher areas, such as the very steep slopes that exist in these agricultural lands, which can lead to a noticeable degradation of the soil. Besides, it is crucial to determine whether the effect of ultraviolet radiation has a negative impact on these potato crops.

Black mulch

Black mulch

Use of agricultural plastics to protect potato crop production

Remembering that the potato is the fourth food crop in importance worldwide, what can be done about the influence of climate change in its production? There are several options that can be implemented to try to minimize the impact, not only of the climate but also of external agents such as pests that can compromise the quality of crops.

One of them is using plastic films specially designed to help crops thrive even in adverse conditions. In the case of potatoes, plasticulture contemplates some options that allow its cultivation throughout the year. These options include mulching, drip irrigation, fertigation, the use of high tunnels and row coverings, tools that not only benefit producers, but also the markets of each country, since the product is always available to meet the demands of consumers all year round.

In the case of areas that have been experiencing very cold temperatures, it is advisable to use plastic covers to increase the heat of the soil and cause the plant to sprout and develop earlier than expected, thus controlling the weeds.

When a drip irrigation system is installed in the crop, surface moisture is controlled by increasing fertilization capacity. Also, the risk of plant diseases is reduced, and insects can be easily controlled.

For more information on this topic we recommend reading our article on how to take advantage of plasticulture to cultivate potatoes. Some of the options available on the market are the following:

Black mulching – Solplast
Black mulching – Sotrafa

If you have crops that may suffer from climate change, you can also get in touch with us to analyse the possible solutions through the selection of an agricultural plastic based on the type of crop, location and climatic conditions.

It is worth mentioning that everything will depend to a large extent on the geographical location of each plantation and on the climate changes that are affecting the production of potato crops. The occurrence of unexpected scenarios that affect the growing and maturity process of the crop are quite common. However, with the use of plastic films farmers can cope with these seasonal changes and cultivate potatoes to meet market needs, as well as improve product quality and increase economic performance.

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