Yara: Why calcium and boron are vital for a robust potato crop

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Calcium and boron are two of the most cited nutrients when it comes to reducing disease in crops. These critical nutrients play a vital role in forming robust protection against disease and other defects within the plant, and growers trying to get the most from their potato crop this season should not underestimate their importance.

“Most growers and agronomists are aware of the role calcium plays when it comes to pH and producing friable soil,” says Mark Tucker, Agronomy Manager at Yara. “However, less widely known is how calcium and boron create well-strengthened cell membranes within the plant, preventing the onset of disease and other issues that could otherwise undermine crop stability.”

Creating a robust crop

Nutrient deficiency is a widespread and often undetected issue for farms across the UK; even where no visible symptoms are present, the crop’s potential can be weakened by hidden issues that lead to financial loss.

“Some data estimates that up to 60% of crops are damaged in some way,” says Oscar Thacker, Area Manager at Yara. “With potatoes, we’re dealing with fresh market goods. The end user is looking for high quality produce with no real defects to it – not just internally, but also when it comes to the exterior when harvesting, whether that’s by hand or mechanical.”

Robust cell structure within the potato crop is key for preventing damage during harvest. Plant cells are delicate; the harvesting process, particularly when performed mechanically, can create a hefty amount of damage.

“Where there’s damage, disease and bacteria can come in,” says Oscar. “This leads to problems like in-store rot and other defects. All of this creates additional costs as a result, which are worth minimising. It comes to the waste side of things – how much are we throwing out at the time of packing? Obviously, calcium and boron can help affect that.”

Calcium and boron work in synergy.. However, deficiencies tend to occur in different soils, which can pose a problem. Boron deficiencies often emerge in sandy soils at a higher pH, and calcium deficiencies tend to be seen at a lower pH. Therefore focusing on a pH of 6.5 is the best way to ensure optimum availability for the crop.

“It’s important to apply a solution that’s right for your farm,” says Oscar. “For example, with our solid calcium product, we would recommend anywhere from 300 to 700kg per hectare, as a replacement for the ammonium nitrate top dressing at tuber initiation. For our liquid product, we would recommend applying approximately 200L per hectare total between crop emergence and tuber initiation. You can also use a product that combines calcium and boron for the best of both worlds.”

The whole approach

As Mark and Oscar explain, the best way for a grower to know their calcium and boron requirements is to look at the whole picture – soil pH, farm history, variety choice, and any collected data or test results all play a part.

Mark addresses just how positive an impact can be made by an application of the right product: “We’ve done research and, with Yara products, we’ve seen incidents of calcium and boron deficiency fall to lower than 10%. It’s important to recognise calcium and boron as two critical nutrients.”

Given that we’re living in times of rising cost pressures, consumers are looking for quality and value for money, making it even more vital that potato crops are presentable and healthy.

“It’s not just about one aspect here, it’s the whole approach to your farming system,” adds Oscar. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a case of knowing your soil and your farm history and applying the right nutrients to ensure a robust potato crop.”

Natalie returns to the principle of Liebig’s barrel, often used to convey the holistic approach required for optimal crop nutrition:

“We don’t want any limiting factors,” adds Natalie. “Liebig’s barrel is a useful way of illustrating this. Consider a normal barrel, with each of the wooden planks that compose it representing a different nutrient. If just one of those is too low, the water in the barrel will leak out.”

Image: Mark Tucker

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Deborah Laird

Deborah Laird

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