Responses of potato subjected to soil compaction and/or drying

From the article «Agronomic and physiological responses of potato subjected to soil compaction and/or drying», of Katharina Huntenburg, Ian C. Dodd, and Mark Stalham, published at Annals of Applied Biology.

Potato is the most produced noncereal food crop worldwide, exceeding soybean production. However, harvests can be threatened by abiotic stresses such as drought and soil compaction. In different climate change models, drought events are projected to decrease potato yields between 18% and 60% globally, as well as on a regional scale.

Compact and dry soils impede root growth and restrict plant water availability, respectively, potentially causing leaf water deficit. Although both stresses likely co‐occur in the field and limit yield, little is known about their combined impact on plant growth and physiology over a whole season, especially in a tuberous crop like potato.

Field‐grown potato (Solanum tuberosum L. var. ‘Maris Piper’) was exposed to factorial combination of deficit irrigation (watering when soil moisture deficit reached 60 vs. 25 mm) and soil compaction (compacted with heavy machinery vs. uncompacted), with plant growth and leaf physiology measured weekly.

Shoot growth was restricted by adverse soil conditions, while leaf water status, photosynthesis rates and leaf abscisic acid (ABA) levels did not vary significantly between treatments. Across all treatments, final yield was linearly correlated (R2 = 0.71) to mid‐season shoot biomass.

Compared to well‐watered plants growing in loose soil, soil compaction, deficit irrigation and their combination decreased final tuber yield similarly, by 23%–34%.

Surprisingly, tuber size distribution was more dependent on irrigation management than on soil strength. Plants exposed to deficit irrigation produced more, smaller potatoes than their respective control. Thus, low soil water availability and/or compact soil caused these field‐grown potatoes to restrict shoot growth rather than limit leaf gas exchange.