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potato industry what soil health means
and extend current research-based
results from the objectives to the larger
agricultural community.
Soil health has been an agricultural
buzzword in recent years, but the
tenets of soil health have been around
for a long time. References to soil
balance and communities are found
in literature from the early 1900s, but
the ideas of soil health and published
research became more common in
the 1990s and 2000s. Now, soil health
terms like soil quality, conservation
tillage, no-till, organic amendments,
cover crops, tilth and soil biology
are commonplace in the agricultural
vernacular and are often mistakenly
viewed as the only option for soil
health. But soil health is a mix of many
factors, including soil properties,
microbial activity and soilborne pest
disease control, all combined into onfarm
practices and actions to produce
a viable, economically productive
cropping system.
Soil health can be difficult to
characterize. Considerable research
and debate is ongoing as to what
measurements should be included
in soil health assessment. These
assessments usually consist of
physical, chemical and biological
measurements of soil. Current
research is focusing on which
biological measurements are the
most relevant. For potato, the soil
microorganisms - both the reduction
in pathogens and the increase in
beneficial organisms - play a key
role in the health of the crop, and
quantification of beneficial and
pathogenic organisms may need to be
part of soil health assessment.
However, many management
practices within the potato cropping
system can lead to increases or
decreases in both of these types of
soil organisms. Because significant
soil disturbance occurs during the
year potatoes are grown, alternative
practices during the rotation years also
need to be considered. Management
practices such as the use of fumigants,
organic amendments or cover crops,
as well as tillage practices and crop
The overall educational outreach message
is that soil health is complicated and needs to
be part of an integrated approach.
rotation, influence soil microbial
composition. These practices can
also alter soil physical and chemical
characteristics over the rotational
system depending on the soil type.
Each change in the production
system alters another aspect, and
therefore, details on the relationships
between certain production actions
and their intended outcomes is still
being evaluated. Furthermore, soil
health varies due to multiple factors
(cropping systems, region, climate
conditions, variety, soil type, etc.)
so recommendations of specific
practices and determining their
effectiveness are still in progress.
Finally, time is often the controlling
variable in improving soil health,
as specific benefits may not be
seen on the farm until years after
initial implementation of the
recommended practices.
Researchers in the USDA:SCRI
Potato Soil Health project have been
evaluating alternative agricultural
practices that may influence soil
microbial communities in beneficial
ways. Soil microbes are involved
in nutrient cycling and pathogen
suppression, among other ecological
activities. However, in potato systems,
large scale, systematic studies on the
links between crop management, soil
microbial communities, crop damage
from soilborne diseases and crop yield
and quality are currently lacking.
Given that much of the research
on soil health has focused on smallseeded
crops and the benefits of
minimal soil disturbance (which is
not an option during the year potato
is grown), research is ongoing to
establish a definition of " soil health "
that is relevant to potato, and to
determine which soil health promoting
agricultural practices are economically
viable. One goal is to include aspects of
disease-suppressive soils for soil health
evaluation in potato.
The USDA:SCRI-funded Potato Soil
Health Project is working to identify
indicators of soil health, determine
soil health management practices
and improve soil health in potato
cropping systems across the U.S.
Specific outreach fact sheets have been
developed from this project that are
designed for grower education. This set
of fact sheets includes cover crops, soil
amendments, microbial communities,
nematodes, economics, disease
suppression, biofumigation and organic
amendments, just to name a few topics.
This series of fact sheets can be found
on the Potato Soil Health Project
website at https://potatosoilhealth.
The overall educational outreach
message is that soil health is
complicated and needs to be part of
an integrated approach. It is not
just one component but part of a
larger system. To achieve a healthy
soil production system, the various
components must work in unison, each
complementing each other to help
create a healthy soil environment.
A national potato soil health manual
has been drafted based on results from
this project and will be completed
later this year. The manual combines
materials from the factsheets with
more details, research and breadth of
each topic area and describes overall
soil health practices and concepts
for potato soil health cropping
systems. This manual will describe
general information, research-based
definitions and best management
practice options for adoption in potato
cropping systems.
For more information about the
USDA:SCRI Potato Soil Health Project,
check out the project website at
and review presentations, videos and
extension materials under the education
tab, or follow the Potato Soil Health
twitter account @SpudSoilHealth.
Spudman.com 37
https://potatosoilhealth http://cfans.umn.edu/education https://potatosoilhealth.cfans.umn.edu/ http://www.Spudman.com

Spudman March 2023

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Spudman March 2023

Spudman March 2023 - 1
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