Potato Soil Health

Potato Harvest

Bryn Evin | Postdoc Scholar | Botany and Plant Pathology

Potatoes in Practice

Traditionally, potato production practices do not align with the principles shown to conserve or improve soil health (ie: reduced tillage). This is primarily due to the large amount of soil disturbance associated with growing potatoes. For example, soil is moved to form hills around potato seed during planting and potatoes are effectively sifted out of the top 8-10 inches of soil during harvest. For potato production systems, principles associated with soil health may still need to be defined. My research uses observational and experimental studies to identify how different agronomic and pest management practices promote or hinder soil health. I am also seeking to determine if specific soil factors such as pH, organic matter, nutrients, beneficial microorganisms, and soil pathogens correlate with potato yield and quality and can serve as indicators of soil health.

To accomplish these goals, I have set up a controlled experiment to observe traditional chemical fumigation, mustard biofumigation, and compost amendment effects on the soil quality and potato yields in a 2-year potato rotation and 3-year potato rotation. As food demands increase, but land space stays the same, growers may choose to shorten rotations to meet those demands. Traditionally, longer rotations favor “healthier” and more productive soils, but management practices can also impact the soil quality. Another study to help accomplish my research goals has been established in growers’ fields, where soil sampling occurs during a potato production season to identify the spatial effects happening within those production fields. This is where identification of correlations between soil components will occur. From that information we can determine which soil components work together and which work against each other.

A Family Affair

My ancestors settled in North Dakota in the late 1800s and many years of hard work allowed our family farm to be passed down for multiple generations.  My parents worked hard on the farm over the years and now my brother runs the family farm. My decision to pursue a career in agriculture is deeply rooted in my family’s farming history and influenced by my dad, who emphasized the importance of having an education. I wanted a career where I could help improve agricultural decision-making on farms across the nation and also use the information gained from my research to ensure the family farm stays productive and in the family. A career in agriculture that promotes plant health is rewarding for me and I feel proud to have chosen a career path that can benefit my family.

A Soil(ed) Future

Soils are an important resource and maintaining soil health will contribute to the long-term sustainability of our farms. My work will help improve crop management recommendations that, in the long run, will conserve and promote soil health in potato production systems. Through improved crop management, producers will be able to reduce chemical inputs, take advantage of natural disease-suppressive soils, and increase the quality of their potato crop. As the population across the world continues to grow and questions of food security continue to be asked, my research will aid in effective crop production and help prevent future food shortages.

Digging In

My research collaborators include Amber Moore, Ken Frost, Eliza Smith, Victoria Skillman and Jenessa Stemke