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11140022 Soil Platforms For Potatoes

Publication Date: 
24 May 2018
Author/Contact :
Blair McKenzie

Contractor :
James Hutton Institute (JHI)

Full Research Project Title: Platforms to test and demonstrate sustainable soil management: integration of major UK field experiments
Duration: October 2012 - December 2016

Industry Challenge

Poor soil management in potato production, particularly due to soil compaction, can cause varying yield losses. To enable identification of favourable soil management practices for potatoes what is required are long-term, controlled trials complemented by high quality quantitative analysis of soil conditions for crop production. Changes in soil structure over time and their resilience to a range of stresses also needs to be understood to identify constraints to crop production at different times in the season.  In addition,  the verification of published soil quality and crop productivity indicators in controlled experiments, which have been in place for a sufficient length of time and cover a range of soil types, is required in GB.


NIAB CUF, James Hutton Institute (JHI) and the University of Aberdeen.


This project used multiple field experiments, where potatoes were grown under commercial production, to test a range of hypotheses relating to the impact of management practices on soil physical quality. Practices tested included cultivation or destoning depths, alternative cultivation systems, organic matter additions and the impact of potato production on long-term soil conditions. We used multiple indexes of soil physical quality and compared the relative merits of each in different circumstances. This project complemented an AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds project that used a range of established soil management experiments to provide an understanding of soil conditions for crop productivity and its interaction with cultivar traits.


a) To quantify a range of indicators of soil physical conditions that affect potato production over the season.

b) To measure the resistance and resilience of soil physical structure to weathering stresses and machinery damage using controlled laboratory approaches.

c) To evaluate the above properties at experimental sites and under different soil management practices, including minimum tillage of other crops in the rotation and depth of cultivation for potatoes.

Key Findings

  • 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.
  • Consistent with Stalham and Allison (2015) 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.
  • Alternative cultivation (i.e. to ploughing) systems tested as part of R444 (Silgram et al. 2015). It was found that within the potato beds the indices of soil quality were better for water availability and root proliferation under the plough treatment.
  • It was identified that 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.


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