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Precision farming in potato production – challenges and opportunities

The potato is one of the five most important crops cultivated worldwide, and is characterized by a particularly high calorie yield per hectare. However, growing potatoes is associated with a high workload which can be significantly reduced by the use of technology. In addition, high yield and a tuber quality suitable for exploitation presuppose intensive plant management while the crop is growing.

The potato is an ideal crop for precision and smart farming. GPS technology, such as track planning and guidance or section control, are increasingly being employed in potato cultivation today. When planting potatoes, soil maps can be used with optionally available hydraulic drives on the planters, to implement variable seed rates. Several years of experiments confirm that, on lighter soils, planting the tubers further apart in the row makes sense to allow the individual plants a larger catchment area for water and nutrients. To allow this to be done, a basic planting distance must be established for each seed variety based on the tuber’s requirements in ideal soil conditions.

Given a sufficient nutrient supply, the growth of potato plants would usually end with the first significant frost event of autumn. But, given the different ways in which the crop is utilized – for example a smaller tuber size in seed potato production – growth is regularly terminated prematurely in many crops with targeted siccation.

Precision farming techniques now allow the application rate of desiccants to now be varied – with the help of appropriate mathematical models – on the basis of an up-to-date biomass map, or the collection of real-time data. This approach reduces the risk of quality impairments caused by over-application of desiccants, and it improves the cost-effectiveness of the process by optimizing the use active ingredient on the area treated.

Yield mapping and crop sorting

For practical self-monitoring of site-specific management measures, mapping the yield at harvest is an indispensable prerequisite. When potatoes are harvested, the tubers, unlike most other arable crops, have to be picked up from the ground and separated from a great deal of soil and other trash. If, due to inadequate cleaning by separation equipment, or missing harvesting personnel to remove any clods or stones, the harvester’s belt weigher can report and unrealistic crop size, which complicates analysis of crop management measures. In addition, most potato varieties are characterized by a pronounced compensation behavior – weak or missing plants are largely offset by a higher yield from their neighbors. This leads to approximately comparable yields, but the compensatory growth can result in a higher proportion of oversized tubers that are outside the specification desired by the grower. Here, in addition to a mapping of the tuber yield, simultaneous detection of the sorting of the crop would be useful to optimize future productivity of cultivation measures at all levels.

Compensatory growth behavior of potatoes poses another fundamental challenge for precision farming, since the biomass of the potato plants visible above ground level only allows partial conclusions to be drawn about the subterranean crop, and this clearly limits the use of proven vegetation indices from other crops. Accurately assessing the yield of the crop and the sorting profile of the tubers prior to harvest currently represent the greatest challenge for the further introduction of precision farming in practical potato production.

Back to Bockerode

PotatoEurope 2018 will be held at Bockerode farm, which also hosted the event in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Near Springe, about 25km south-west of the Hanover, the venue is within easy reach of international visitors via Hannover-Langenhagen international airport and the Hannover-Hauptbahnhof ICE-Station. Overall, the DLG expects about 10,000 visitors during the two days of the event.

The PotatoEurope 2018 trade fair is organized by the DLG with the support of UNIKA.

More information is available from Dr. Wilfried Wolf at the DLG by Tel: +49 (0) 69 247 88 272 or Email:

Information is also available online at