Potatoes one of earliest crops in the ground

Some potato growers have planted a crop, but the cool, wet spring has kept others out of the field

Some potato growers in the province have their crops in while others have taken advantage of the warm-up this past weekend, despite the cool start to the spring.

According to Eugenia Banks, special consultant with the Ontario Potato Board, planting in some parts of Ontario began right around Easter. By April 10, reports from one grower who’d planted his first 100 acres near Leamington found the seed was beginning to sprout. While the weather was less-than ideal across much of the rest of the province, Banks stated she wasn’t surprised.

“Leamington has a microclimate completely different to central areas of Ontario,” she added. “I still remember being there years ago when the soil temperature was 4 C and planting was proceeding smoothly.”

Eight days later, Banks posted an update on that same Leamington crop, noting that it was “doing well” with no signs of soft rot having set in, even though the immediate area was fairly wet.

This past weekend, she received two reports – one from a grower in the Simcoe-Delhi area, who started planting April 22 and another from a grower in the Alliston area, who expects to be planting later in the week. Both indicated to Banks they’re about eight days behind the start of last year’s planting.

In other potato-related news, Banks has been answering questions about Dickeya dianthicola, or “the new blackleg”, as it’s being referred to. Given the disease’s relative infancy in Canadian fields, there’s still plenty of speculation on its spread and survivability in water sources. Steve Johnson, from the University of Maine’s cooperative extension, found that cutting infected tubers and then cutting healthy tubers without disinfecting the knife did not lead to an increase of Dickeya-infected plants in a field. To be clear, his research was conducted in a laboratory setting, and he made that statement during a summit on the disease, late last year. That finding however, was questioned by Leigh Morrow from McCain, who said that in a commercial farm setting, seed cutting would spread Dickeya easily, similar to the spread of the conventional blackleg during seed cutting.

As for how long Dickeya’s bacterium can remain viable in water, one researcher told the audience at the 2018 Potato Expo in Guelph that it can survive indefinitely. Banks checked that with Dr. Gary Secor from North Dakota State University, and his estimate is three months to one year.

“It’s a fact that Ontario potato seed is free of Dickeya,” concludes Banks. “If you plant Ontario seed and detect a couple of plants showing blackleg during the season, it’s for sure the ‘old blackleg’.”

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