Reduced water use and improved potato quality are goals of research project

By: Bruce Kelly, Farm & Food Care Ontario

At a farm north of Alliston, Ontario, the Ontario Potato Board is conducting an innovative project to define the amount of water used to irrigate potatoes, and at the same time improve crop quality in storage.

Centre pivot systems used for irrigating potato crop are a staple of the Alliston region. The project will provide farmers with more control of the water applied to different zones within the field resulting in better quality potatoes for the processor and better quality potato chips for the consumer. Yum!

Irrigators used to water potatoes are commonly 400 meters in length and cover a circle 800 meters in diameter. Depending on the rate of irrigation, it can take more than a day for the system to complete one watering cycle. Currently using different nozzle sizes along the length of the boom and on/off time sequences, these systems apply a uniform amount of water over the coverage area of the circle.

Ian Nichols of WIN Weather demonstrates how soil probes and agrometeorological weather stations improve water conservancy on a potato field.

The research being undertaken in the potato fields of Homer Vander Zaag has two main objectives:

  • Modifying equipment so that varying rates of water can be applied to different zones of the irrigation circle based on maps programmed into the computer. This is called Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI). The maps are made by the farmer with help from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF), Agriculture and Agri Food Canada (AAFC) and the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority. The water applied to a zone will take into account the soil type, historic yield and topography of the field.
  • Precisely measure moisture in different parts of the field and at three soil depths to monitor the water available at root level in response to different water application rates. This will be done using using the latest in weather and soil monitoring equipment from WIN Weather Innovations extensive network capabilities. The data will be available electronically for the farmer to use when making decisions on watering schedules and watering base rates.

Once the equipment is modified to apply different amounts of water to different zones of the field, the weather and soil monitoring equipment will be used to refine the amounts of water that need to be applied to achieve optimal crop growth and water conservation.

This irrigation system has been retrofitted to supply variable rate irrigation to the potato field.

In addition, the VRI system will help the farmer reduce the amount of water applied to low lying or poorly drained areas of the field where, in the past, excessive water has impaired crop quality. Overly irrigated potatoes are susceptible to various types of rot that can impact quality and storage properties.

This is one project being funded, in part, through the Water Resource Adaptation and Management Initiative (WRAMI), administered by Farm & Food Care. WRAMI is funded by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) from the Agricultural Flexibility Fund, as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan. Information on all WRAMI-funded projects is available at:


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