UMN researchers obtain grant to study how soil health impacts potato production

Soilborne diseases in potato production represent a major challenge to the potato industry often requiring fumigation for their control. Increasing evidence exists that incorporating practices to improve soil health may be a sustainable option for reducing soilborne diseases and potentially reducing reliance on fumigation. However, enhancing soil health in potato cropping systems is a challenge because of the significant soil disturbance that occurs during potato planting and harvest, lack of organic residue associated with potato vines, difficulty in establishing a cover crop following harvest in some regions, and the reliance on fumigation to control diseases.

To address this issue, University of Minnesota Professor in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate Carl Rosen is leading new research on soil health, which is funded by a $8 million grant over four years from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) and bringing together the research efforts of 10 universities.

“This SCRI project will address significant knowledge gaps related to the complex relationships among factors affecting soil health and potato soilborne diseases,” said Rosen. “Our studies will consider the entire potato cropping system, including potato cultivar, rotation crops, biological control options, and cover crops to identify management practices that enhance soil health and reduce soilborne diseases and to identify chemical and microbial indicators of soil health associated with those practices across the major U.S. potato production areas.”

The potential financial impacts of soilborne diseases in potato production are significant. In the U.S., potatoes are grown on more than 1 million acres in 30 states with a farm-gate value of approximately $4 billion. The top nine producing states are Idaho, Washington, Oregon, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine and Colorado, grown in four major U.S. growing regions: the Pacific Northwest, Upper Midwest, Northeast, and Southwest.

The overall goal of the research will be to enhance environmental quality and to sustain the economic viability of potato operations in the U.S.

The research team involves 24 collaborators consisting of soil scientists, plant pathologists, potato agronomists, and social scientists from across the United States. In addition to field experiments, University of Minnesota Department of Plant Pathology Professor Linda Kinkel will lead DNA analyses of soil microbiomes to identify microbial communities associated with healthier and more productive potato crops. An on-farm network of sites throughout major commercial potato production areas will be established to evaluate spatial variability of soil health indicators and plant health/productivity data. By taking an integrated approach that encompasses the entire northern range of U.S. potato production, this research will provide one of the most geographically-extensive datasets on potato cropping systems ever compiled.

Anticipated outcomes for the research project include a soil health assessment and soilborne pathogen risk-advisory tool for precision management of potato crops, and identification of management practices and soil microbial populations that are associated with improved soil health. In total, this work will develop practical recommendations for soil enhancements and optimal crop management strategies potato producers throughout the U.S.

Read the full brief.