Description: BYU researchers are analyzing potato soil health to aid in the development of non-fumigation technologies for potato production.
- Sponsor: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
- Principal Investigator: Brad Geary
- Co-PIs: John Chaston, Zachary Aanderud
Whether we eat them mashed, baked, fried, fresh, or dried, potatoes are a staple to diets all around the world. According to the USDA, potatoes rank fourth for crop consumption in the entire world and are the leading grown vegetable in the U.S. While more than half of the nation’s potatoes are grown in just Idaho and Washington, potatoes are a food consumed from coast to coast. Much goes into the process of potato growth and production, including making sure the plants are grown in healthy soil. Collaborating with several other organizations, BYU Professors Brad Geary, John Chaston, and Zachary Aanderud seek to analyze microbial communities and soil health for potato growth.
One of the largest restrictive factors in potato production comes from the effects of soilborne diseases, which are caused by plant pathogens. In order to control the spread and impact of these pathogens to the plants, many growers use fumigation. These fumigants, or pesticides, are effective in maintaining good potato production health. However, they also disrupt the natural balance of microbial communities in the soil. Therefore, agricultural technologies that provide an alternative to fumigation would have substantial benefits to potato production. To aid in this effort, the researchers are currently studying the soil characteristics and microbial communities found in fumigated and non-fumigated soils to determine what factors most impact soil health.
The research team will analyze soil from 5 different states, with a total of 11 different fields. The fields are set up so that there is at least one non-fumigated and one fumigated field in each state. Random samples will be taken at four different times of the year from each field and analyzed based on two elements: soil characteristics and microbial communities. Among the collaborators of this project, the researchers at BYU will mainly be in charge of conducting analysis and processing for the soil samples. Assessment of the soil characteristics will be conducted according to the Cornell Soil Health Assessment, which measures physical, chemical, and biological factors of the soil. The microbial communities will be analyzed using next generation sequencing, principle coordinates analysis, and Spearman-rank correlation tests. The results from each type of soil, fumigated and non-fumigated, will then be compared.
This research establishes a foundation of information about potato soil health for technologies to eliminate fumigate use in potato production. Not only are fumigants harmful to the natural balance of the soil, but there are also growing restrictions from the Environmental Protection Agency which control the use of fumigants. Additionally, most people prefer eating food that has been grown organically without pesticides. The baseline created by this collaboration will have an influential impact on future methods that enable spud production without fumigation.