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Interseeding cultivation method shows early promise to reduce nitrate leaching

A two-year project funded through the University of Wisconsin-Water Resources Institute is investigating an interseeding cultivation method for potato cropping that shows early promise to reduce nitrate leaching, reports Moira Harrington, communications manager for the University of Wisconsin-Water Resources Institute..

“When you look at impacts on the groundwater system from typical cropping systems in the Central Sands (region of Wisconsin), they tend to leach nitrate,” said Kevin Masarik, researcher from UW-Stevens Point. “Potatoes are particularly challenging because the hill and furrow system tends to promote both (water) recharge, as well as nitrate leaching loss due to the high nitrogen demand of that particular crop.”

The researcher is pursuing what he termed an outside-the-box idea – interseeding rye, oat and millet between the rows of potatoes to create biomass to take up excess nitrates.

“In the last five years I’ve been trying to switch the questions that I’m interested in, devoting my time and attention to investigating potential solutions that significantly improve water quality. And that’s what this project was born out of,” Masarik said.

Critically the project also needs to ensure a potato harvest isn’t hindered nor yield significantly reduced by the additional vegetation between rows. Masarik said he’s grateful for the cooperation of Portage County farmer Justin Isherwood, who in 2020 provided a test plot.

Discoveries of last year will be applied. For example, rye is likely to be removed from the seed mix because it put early energy into root growth, resulting in slow above-ground growth. The rye was then shaded out by potato plants. Other plants, though, “Did have some success. I think it showed that the amount of biomass accumulation and the amount of nitrogen that the interplanting, or that cover crop, was able to capture is significant enough that this could be viable,” Masarik said, as enthusiasm bubbled. He said he is energized for the coming growing season. “I enjoy talking about it. I’m pretty excited about it.”

Masarik also wanted to talk about potato growers, who he termed as wanting to be proactive on the nitrate-loading challenge.

Source: Agri-View. Read the full report here
Related: Experimental cultivation method could mean healthy potato yield and healthier water
Photo: Nick Koschak, a UW-Stevens Point undergraduate works in the field on a UW potato project, interseeding rye, oat and millet between rows of potatoes to create biomass to take up excess nitrites | Credit: Kevin Masarik/Univ of Wisconsin

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