University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Plant Sciences Research Seminars > Improving uniformity of potato crops

Improving uniformity of potato crops

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Approximately 10% of the yield of potato crops is wasted as tubers are too small or too large to be marketable. The yield and number of tubers in a crop determine the mean tuber size and the mechanisms controlling these are well understood. Irregular irrigation and infection of the crop by Rhizoctonia solani are known to increase variability in tuber size, but the fundamental causes of variation in tuber size are poorly understood. Plant-to-plant variation in yield, stem number and tuber number has long been noted to occur in potato crops and we are seeking to establish what influences this variation and whether it has any influence on variation in tuber size of the crop. Survey work has been performed where individual plant growth was studied in detail, including the first study of the growth of individual stems in the field. We found that higher yielding stems produced larger tubers, as tuber number does not increase in proportion to yield, and thus reducing variation in stem yields would decrease variation in tuber size. Field experiments were conducted where variation in seed tuber weight, date of emergence and within-row spacing were altered. None of the treatments caused significant differences in the variation of tuber size, plant yields or above-ground stem weights. Regression analysis revealed that variation in the date of emergence was the primary cause of variation in plant yields, but seed tuber weight also had a small influence. Non-destructive measurements of plants early in the season showed that the hierarchy of plant size persisted to the end of the season, but was also affected by neighbouring plants. Where variation in within-row spacing was altered, plant yields did not correlate with the space per plant. Variation in stem yields was influenced by stem number per plant and the date of emergence, but we also propose that variation in the amount of seed tuber substrate per stem is important in determining their initial relative size and ultimately the size of tubers that they produce. Further work will examine how variation in seed tuber weight, date of emergence and within-row spacing interact with each other in Maris Piper, survey plant-to-plant variability in other varieties and establish how other varieties respond to variable within-row spacing.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Research Seminars series.

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