Americans consume about 130 pounds of fresh and processed potatoes per capita annually, and in 2008 U.S. farmers harvested some 41.3 billion pounds of spuds on more than one million acres. So making even small changes in how potatoes are grown could yield big benefits for the environment.
Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are making potato production as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible. So far, plants in the mustard (Brassica) family, which have natural pest suppression properties, have been key partners in this effort.
At the ARS New England Plant, Soil and Water Laboratory in Orono, Maine, scientists have conducted long-term research with canola and other Brassica crops in rotation with potatoes since 1997. They’ve found that with the right crop rotation, potato farmers can naturally suppress diseases, enhance soil nutrient content, boost crop productivity and lower the use of fertilizers, all of which lower the risks of economic losses.