Spud research looks at greenhouse gas emissions

BROOKS, Alta. — Potato plants need a lot of nitrogen to produce tubers at optimum levels, but with more applied nitrogen comes an increased risk of nitrogen loss to the atmosphere.

Guillermo Hernandez Ramirez, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, is studying the use and loss of that fertilizer in potato crops. He is testing various nitrogen fertilizer formulations and biostimulants to gauge their effect on potato productivity and nitrous oxide emissions.

“In potato crops we want to be able to figure out what’s the environmental footprint and one of the main components of the environmental footprint is actually greenhouse gas emissions,” Ramirez said during a late August field day at the Crop Diversification Centre in Brooks.

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“Potatoes are a very intense crop. There’s a lot of activities related to tillage, also irrigation and nitrogen emissions. It is a high rate of nitrogen fertilizer that goes into the fields.”

Ramirez has plots of Russet Burbank potatoes subjected to 11 different fertilizer, biostimulant and inhibitor combinations and amounts at both Brooks and Lethbridge.

The biostimulant, a product called HYT-A, has been tested on potatoes and other high-value crops in Europe, but research there is also in the early stages.

“This is the first time that we are testing this in North America,” said Ramirez.

In all plots, 65 percent of the nitrogen was applied pre-planting and the balance at hilling.

Chambers were installed in the hills and valleys of each plot so nitrous oxide emissions could be measured weekly. Soil samples are designed to show the nitrogen levels in soil after application and measure the uptake by the crop.

At harvest, nitrogen will be measured in the potato canopy and in the tubers. Crop productivity and grading will also be recorded.

Ramirez said that if certain combinations of fertilizer, biostimulants or inhibitors prove to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from the soil, it could affect market access for Canadian potatoes in the future and prove the crop’s sustainability from an environmental perspective.

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