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A bountiful harvest begins with careful cultivation


A notable quantity of potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) production is lost during the primary production phase due to various factors, including fungal infections, pests, nutrient deficiencies, and harvest issues. Potatoes are a crucial global food crop, ranking fourth in terms of production after maize, wheat, and rice. They are particularly significant in Europe and Belgium, where they form an important part of the diet. In Belgium, potatoes are not only a key food source but also an important economic crop, contributing significantly to the country’s agricultural revenue.

Aya Amar is a PhD student at the department of Plant and Crop at Ghent University, and is working on the quantification of potato losses during the production phase. Her research aims to identify and quantify the primary production losses and develop strategies to mitigate them. This work is part of the larger FOLOU project that focuses on enhancing food security and sustainability by improving agricultural practices. By tackling the problem of potato losses, Aya’s research contributes to ensuring a more stable and productive potato supply, aligning with the goals of the Folou project to reduce food losses and enhance crop resilience.

Climate change poses a new threat to potato production. Summer drought conditions in particular can impact productivity. However, too wet weather conditions can hamper harvest resulting in even much more food losses.

In her work, Aya investigates whether biostimulants can improve the rooting depth and hence reduce production losses in drought conditions. In 2023, a first field experiment was set up at UGent’s Bottelare Experimental Farm, and promising outcomes emerged. Among the treatments, the biostimulant Alphasol showcased exceptional performance, exhibiting superior tuber number and size (Figure 1). This success suggested the potential of Alphasol (a protein hydrolysate based biostimulant) as a significant contributor to yield enhancement (Figure 2). However, challenges arose due to adverse weather conditions, resulting in significant losses affecting approximately 50% of the global yield. Addressing these weather-related challenges will be a priority for the upcoming seasons.

Figure 1: Comparison of Potato Tubers – Left: Tubers of one plant from a non-treated plot Right: Tubers of a one plant from a plot Treated with Alphasol. Down: Preharvest Tuber subsampling Results.
Figure 2: Freshly harvested potatoes at UGent’s Bottelare Experimental Farm.

Furthermore, Aya is developing a method to quantify production losses based on remote sensing technology. We integrate sensing data with field observations to accurately estimate and predict yield using crop growth models (Figure 3). The experimental trials are monitored with repeated drone flights, equipped with multispectral and thermal sensors. On a larger scale, we are using high resolution satellite data to estimate the yields and production losses. A predictive model will be developed to estimate the actual attained yield and the attainable yield, or the yield that could have been achieved in absence of nutrient, abiotic or biotic stress. The production losses can be considered as the difference of this yield estimates.

Figure 3: Integrated agricultural monitoring with UAVs, satellites, and sensors for crop for yield prediction.