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Are potato plants sick or just thirsty?

A potato study utilizes irrigation system feedback to distinguish between “thirst” and disease.

Federal and state researchers are studying irrigation scheduling and a potential for water savings in potato plants at the Conservation and Production Research Laboratory at Bushland in the US, Kay Ledbetter reports in AgriLife.

This year they called upon an ally in the potato industry to help them when the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the planting of the 2020 potato plots due to social distancing rules.

The three-year project, supported by the Texas Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant program, is a collaboration between Susan O’Shaughnessy, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, ARS, agricultural engineer-irrigation automation, and Charlie Rush, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant pathologist.

The project has two purposes: O’Shaughnessy is analyzing the ability of sensors attached to an irrigation system to determine when the crop needs a drink using the plant’s temperature as a guide. The variable rate wireless irrigation scheduling system would schedule water application in relation to the temperature of the plant.

“Potatoes are very sensitive to both over irrigation and drought conditions,” she said. “We want to optimize the amount of water we put onto the potatoes; preventing over irrigation as well as under irrigation. …What we hope to do is provide farmers with an easier way to manage potato fields, especially in fields with variable soil conditions.”

Rush, on the other hand, sees himself as a “plant doctor” who wants to know if that plant’s temperature is an indication of disease or illness, much like a fever in a human.

“If you were just assuming it was a healthy plant, then you would put water on it. But if it is really a diseased plant, then putting water on it is not going to help at all. Matter of fact, it may make the disease worse,” according to Rush.

“A plant getting hot can also indicate a diseased root system or some other physiological issue that’s impacting the health of the plant. Just like with people, a fever indicates something else in the body is wrong, it’s not functioning right.”

Rush said he has long hypothesized disease will impact the plant’s water-use efficiency, and the plant will be hot if its temperature is measured with a thermometer.

Read the full report on this study in AgriLife here
Photo: NPR

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher

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