Growing Innovation: Issue 14, August 31, 2016

New soil projects for the potato industry

With soil wealth and health able to make or break a crop, new projects for the fresh and processing potato industries are set to explore research in soils for the improved management of disease, and help growers better utilise soil-health research and information on-farm.

The first project will look into Spongospora-suppressive soils in the production of potatoes. Spongospora is responsible for powdery scab in potato tubers and its infection of potato roots can have significant impact on the growth and productivity of the crop, as well as the spread of the pathogen in the soil – not to mention the downgrading of potatoes affected by the disease.

Previous research from Hort Innovation’s Australian Potato Research Program – Phase 2 has shown the potential for the manipulation of soil biology in the control of common scab of potato, having identified a suppressive soil for this disease and a transferable biologically-based suppressive element within it. Turning to Spongospora, the new research will aim to identify soil that suppresses the fungus’s impact on susceptible potatoes, and characterise the specific elements within the soil that contribute to this effect.

Hort Innovation Chief Executive John Lloyd said: “It is hoped not only that the research will be able to identify natural properties of some soils that may keep Spongospora symptoms at bay, and the mechanisms for this, but that the work will determine whether the suppressive properties can be transferred or established in other soils, which could be of potential benefit for the industry. We know that the impact of powdery scab for the Australian potato industry is currently about $11.9 million a year when yield effects are included.”

Hort Innovation is currently looking for service providers for this work (see the tender page), which will be funded by Hort Innovation using the fresh and processing potato industry levies and funds from the Australian Government.

Hort Innovation is also on the hunt for a provider for another new project that will collate and assess currently available soil health information developed for the potato industry in Australia and abroad. The aim is to identify knowledge gaps where future soil-health investment for the potato industry is needed. “And, most importantly,” Mr Lloyd said, “to deliver information to the industry so that growers and other industry stakeholders can make use of the soil-health information and R&D findings in their decision-making and on-farm management.”