The cultivation of potatoes may seem simple from a distance, but there are complexities involved, according to specialists. Among the difficulties include finding suitable soil for cultivation, market barriers, and labour expenditures.
Potato South Africa CEO, Willie Jacobs, and potato farmers, Qenehelo Mavuso and CT van der Merwe, unpacked the potato industry during a recent session of Gather To Grow.
According to Van der Merwe, tubers (part of the stems) are first created in a laboratory from a sprout with a variety of characteristics. Thereafter, the plants are grown in a greenhouse which generates the first generation of seed tubers. This is then subsequently duplicated until generation four or five, which is when the final product (potato) is consumed.
Identify your needs
Depending on what you’re going for, the costs involved vary, Van der Merwe explains.
“The cost differs from the first generation. If you buy first generation, you pay on average of R5 per tuber, which is very expensive. That tuber is [easily] the size of your nail on your thumb nail.”
He adds that seed tubers may cost up to R1000 making first generation seed tubers highly costly. Typically, [first] generation accounts for roughly 25% of the overall costs.
Farmers have the option of buying their potato seeds from a number of stores in the country, Van der Merwe says.
Let’s talk soil
What’s important for farmers to note is that they must rotate the areas they choose to grow potatoes. This is because among other reasons, there are variations in climate and precipitation (rain, hail, and snow).
During the session, Mavuso offers advice saying that farmers should do their best to avoid planting in clay soil. This is because it may be difficult to harvest. Potatoes need sandy, close-textured soil in order to flourish and thrive, he says.
“In the Eastern Free State we have sandy loam soil (soil used for gardening) so what I normally do is work the soil. It must be soft enough so that your produce can grow and grow very well.”
In this session, experts also discuss:
- Pests and disease mitigation strategies;
- The growth time from seed to harvest; and
- Essential equipment for planting and harvesting potatoes.
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