China: Let seed potatoes grow like grapes

In order to improve the yield of potatoes, the Potato Cultivation Center of the Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences has launched the "Aeroponics 4.0" project. In this system, seed potatoes do not grow underground in the open field but like hanging grapes. The stolons and roots are suspended in the air to fully absorb the atomized nutrient solution, and the seed potatoes are densely growing in clusters. 

In this growing environment, the bare roots of potato plants can absorb nutrients every 15 minutes, so that the original seed potatoes, which can only produce 1-2 seeds per plant previously, are increased in efficiency to 20-30 seeds per plant now. This technology greatly reduces the cost of using virus-free seed potatoes, making it affordable for growers, and can increase the yield by more than 30% per hectare of land.

Located in the aeroponics base of the Potato Cultivation Center of the Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, in a greenhouse of more than 2,000 square meters, rows of boxes are planted with original seed potatoes of different varieties from all over the country. This cultivation method is not like planting potatoes, but more like grapes that are growing on vines in the sky.

"Aeroponics is done to improve the efficiency of seed potatoes." Mr. Hu Jianjun, Director of the Potato Cultivation Center, explained.

In potato planting, you have this bottleneck of seed potatoes. Potatoes reproduce vegetatively. Every generation of planting, various viruses will continue to accumulate from the environment, and these viruses will cause serious degradation of the seed, and ultimately lead to a substantial decline in yield.

To keep the yield, it is best to use virus-free seed potatoes. But another characteristic of potatoes makes it difficult to promote virus-free seed potatoes on a large scale,  that is the reproduction coefficient of potatoes is low, about 1:10. In other words, every kind of 10 hectares of commercial potatoes requires about 1 hectare of seed potatoes. The high cost has become a "blocker" on way to the large-scale promotion of virus-free seed potatoes.

Because of this characteristic of potatoes, many growers do not use virus-free seed potatoes in their production, but instead, use their own potatoes as seed potatoes. However, these seed potatoes that are not virus-free will cause a consequence of serious degradation of the variety and a sharp drop in output, which will eventually lead to a decline in benefits.

Mr. Hu Jianjun introduced that using the substrate to cultivate the original seed potatoes, each seedling generally yields 1-2 potatoes, and the cost of each is rather high. The aeroponics is to greatly improve the efficiency of seed potatoes, solve the problem of the high cost of seed potatoes, and ultimately, growers should be able to afford seed potatoes at affordable prices.


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