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How a Canadian potato operation is practicing minimal tillage

Potatoes aren’t usually the poster child for minimal tillage. The reality of the planting, hilling and digging cycle usually means plenty of dirt, some of it airborne. But dramatically reducing tillage is exactly what Chad Berry, of Under the Hill Farms near Glenboro in Canada’s Manitoba province, is trying to do. Alexis Stockford, reports for the Manitoba Co-operator.

She reports that Berry’s farm, in association with Simplot Canada, is host this year to a demonstration trial hoping to collect data on direct-seeded potatoes, part of Berry’s ongoing efforts to limit soil disturbance and wind erosion on his farm.

“The main reason is to mitigate blowing,” he said. “We see lots of potato fields in spring. There’s four to five weeks where the fields are black and powdery and, this way, we can leave some stubble standing. It’s not going to be nearly as bad.”

Potatoes have a reputation for high soil disturbance, but Under the Hill Farms is hoping to keep its soil where it is by direct seeding into stubble.

The trial represents an early attempt to scale up minimal-tillage potatoes, something usually limited to the world of market gardens.

This year was Berry’s second attempt at direct seeding. Last year, the farm planted some potatoes on fall rye stubble, but was unable to harvest, thanks to weather challenges.

Scott Graham, agronomy raw development manager with Simplot Canada, argued that the system allows producers to reduce spring passes to one, including fertilizer application.

“In the fall, you still have to do that one-pass deep ripping to get your 12 to 15 inches, to break your compaction layers, but this planting system possibly could offer on some sandier soil types the ability to make one pass in the springtime,” he said.

Source: Read the full report in Manitoba Co-operator here
Photo: Canola stubble pokes out of the hills in Chad Berry’s direct-seeded potato demonstration | Alexis Stockford

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