Research focuses on irrigated potatoes

Potatoes under irrigation are the focus of a new study by Lethbridge College and the Potato Growers of Alberta.

Its focus is on the ways irrigation methods affect southern Alberta’s potato crops and is led by the college’s Willemijn Appels, the Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science.

The study will use a $397,595 grant from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. Five different potato fields in southern Alberta, representing different soil types and topography, will be studied, in the areas of Vauxhall, Bow Island, Chin and Taber.

Researchers will record the way producers use irrigation and other water sources and their outcome on crops in different parts of the fields.

That information will be used to guide producers on management and technology or “where the sweet spot is they could use to increase their yield, increase their water use efficiency and eventually start looking at more expansion of irrigated areas,” Appels said in a news release.

Water timing and use are critical to potato production. Drought conditions, or changes that may come through climate change, could impact irrigation practices so information on optimum management of available water is useful.

The project will involve two projects with the University of Saskatchewan, one of them looking at producers’ irrigation decision-making process and another at physical attributes of the land. Three Lethbridge College environmental science students will also conduct research.

“It’s definitely a broad introduction to applied research for the students,” said Appels. “They’ll have been exposed to methods to determine soil texture, but now they’re asked to do that from a perspective of looking at how does that texture influence how plants grow and use water?”

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