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The complex relationship between soil health and potatoes: Unpacking the Potato Soil Health Project

In this episode of Potato-Cast, Potatoes USA Conversation Architect, Natalia Cervantes, interviews Carl Rosen, Head of the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate at the University of Minnesota. Rosen joins Potato-Cast for a discussion about a soil health project that was brought to the Potato Research Advisory Committee back in 2018.

Carl Rosen is the Project Director for the Potato Soil Health Project. For the past 35 years, his research and extension programs in Minnesota have focused on optimizing nutrient management for a variety of crops with particular emphasis on irrigated cropping systems especially those that include potatoes. 

Rosen says the Potato Soil Health Project is special “because potatoes are such a challenging crop to work with when it comes to soil health.”

According to him, “soil health is vital for all crops to protect our soils from degradation and sustain yields for future generations. According to the NRCS, soil health refers to the condition of a soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. This is a holistic view of soils that considers the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils and how they all interact to help us produce crops in a sustainable manner. We do a pretty good job with the chemical aspects of soil – for example, fertilizer inputs, but we have often neglected the biological or living aspects of the soil which are also important for nutrient cycling and improved soil structure.”

Carl Rosen further explains that a major focus of soil health is on maintaining or enhancing soil organic matter and a beneficial soil microbial community of bacteria and fungi.

“This is where it gets interesting for potatoes, because soil borne diseases are a major limiting factor in potato production and therefore the common practice is to fumigate the soil to control these diseases,” he says.

“Now fumigation can be beneficial to plant health, but it kills not only the pathogens but also the beneficial microbes.  One of the objectives of our project is to identify management practices that can promote a soil microbial community to reduce the incidence of soil-borne diseases without total reliance on fumigation.”

Source: Potatoes USA. Listen to the podcast here and read a transcript
Related: A landmark initiative: The Soil Health Project is helping to shape potato farming of the future

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