Platforms to test and demonstrate sustainable soil management for potatoes
At the time that this project was commissioned, AHDB were supporting other projects on soil management:
- AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds PR574 Platforms to test and demonstrate sustainable soil management: integration of major UK field experiments
- AHDB potatoes Project R459 Improving cultivation practices in potatoes
- AHDB potatoes Project R444 Managing cultivations and cover crops for improved profitability and environmental benefits in potatoes
This project aligned with the other projects, using the same methodologies to characterise soil structure and stability and where possible collecting samples from the same experiments. Project R459 examined different depths of cultivation. This project used multiple field experiments, where potatoes were grown under commercial production, to test the impact of a range of practices on soil physical quality. These included cultivation or destoning depths, alternative cultivation systems, organic matter additions and the impact of potato production on long-term soil conditions. Multiple indexes of soil physical quality were used and compared.
- Repeated soil sampling at GPS located points provides a useful way of monitoring soil conditions and linking them to management practices. The selection of sampling sites can be guided by rapid in-situ field measurements such a vane shear strength or VESS (Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure).
- There are multiple measures of soil physical quality and the best one or combination depends on the specific hypothesis to be tested.
- Cultivation and destoning operations should be no deeper than necessary and timed so that the soil is drier than the plastic limit.
- Deep destoning did not result in better soil conditions than shallow destoning.
- Applications of municipal compost over multiple years prior to potato cropping produced less-dense, softer, more-stable soil (than no application), particularly at 15 and 20 cm depths into the potato beds. While there can be some detrimental effects to soil quality associated with potato harvest the compost addition ameliorated some of these effects.
- Carefully managed potato crops, cultivated and harvested when the soil conditions were near to optimal did not leave a detrimental legacy within the ploughing depth for subsequent crops, although there was some evidence of subsoil compaction.