Mkulima today potatoes are one of the most consumed farms produce especially in urban areas with growing demand in rural areas. The future of this is in the understanding of Kenya’s mechanized potato farming.
mechanized potato farming
Potatoes are a rich source of nutrients and energy as a result of their high content of vitamins, minerals, and essential organic compounds and are both a staple and cash crop.
Currently, the average potato yield is three to six tonnes per acre. With the dismal harvest attributed to
- poor land preparation
- planting in a furrow and not a bed
- substandard seeds
- poor fertilizer application
- poor disease control
- post-harvest losses
The local yield can be increased to between 20 and 30 tonnes per acre if several issues are addressed.
Weaknesses that need to be addressed in local potato production starting with high-quality seeds or seedlings
In the Netherlands and Ireland, farmers harvest between 60 and 70 tonnes per acre.
Currently, in the country, most farmers rely on saved seeds from the previous seasons.
One of the most concerning issues in mechanized potato farming is most farmers sell the large potatoes for cash, eat the mid sizes ones and use the smallest from the harvest as planting material for the next season.
This reduced production can be improved by using certified seeds at the onset of the farming season.
Also by use of farm-saved seeds, you can boost production by planting the larger potatoes and not the smaller ones.
For good and proper land preparation it is important that potatoes are planted in beds with the correct tilt to allow for good and an even multiplication of the tubers.
You should ensure that at the point of harvest it will be easy to harvest and ensure non of the potatoes are left in the soil during harvest in order to boost your sales.
Potatoes grow well in loose loamy soils and some areas of sandy loam soils where there is frequent rainfall or irrigation is used in drier areas.
The soil or farm needs to be plowed and must be free of weeds before using the seedbed former or commonly known as the rotary ridger.
It prepares the soil to give a bed with consistent tilth and good aeration that encourages the tubers to multiply sideways.
The planter plants the seeds at an even and sets a depth of 12cm at the same center of the bed with an even distance between plants of around 30cm to achieve the correct plant population.
Accurate planting in the correct tilth, with the soil structure allowing for an even aggregation of 3mm paves the way for good multiplication and uniform potatoes.
During the growing period, to achieve good multiplication a bed maintainer is necessary to ensure that the tubers always have soil cover and never see the light.
Once light reaches the potatoes, multiplication stops. This has to be done two to three times during the growth cycle.
Potato blight must be controlled by spraying and unfortunately if not kept in check by use of preventive spraying you will lose your harvest to very poor yields of rotten tomatoes.
Up to 50 percent of farmers, suffer harvest losses caused by cuts during harvesting as a result of the manual harvesting mechanisms employed.
This loss can be minimized to zero by the use of potato harvesters. The harvesting machines lift the potatoes and the soil just below the crops and the soil is sieved as it passes through.
Soil from the plants is sieved as it passes through the specifically coated lifter chains that prevent potato skin damages.
Undamaged potatoes are then dropped back on the soil surface ready to be weather hardened and bagged for the market.
Using this method the land is left flat and level for easy planting of another crop directly.
To succeed with mechanized potatoes farming it is important that quality and proven equipment is used with the necessary training for the farmers and operators on the correct handling and maintenance of the equipment.
Curbing post-harvest losses is the last line of defense for you as the farmer. The potatoes should be kept in a cool and dry place for up to two weeks.
Thereafter they should then be put in cold storage, which can then extend the shelf life for a further two months and resulting in more earnings for the farmers.
Potatoes can be rotated with other crops such as maize and beans.
Avoid crop rotation with crops like tomatoes that belong to the same family.
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