Influence of reduced tillage and fertilization regime on crop performance and nitrogen utilization of organic potato

Drakopoulos, Dimitrios; Scholberg, J.M.S.; Lantinga, E.A.; Tittonell, P.A.


The majority of Dutch farmers perceive that mouldboard ploughing prior to potato planting is necessary, despite its negative impacts on inherent soil fertility and soil structure. An innovative agronomic practice in Dutch organic agriculture is the use of cut-and-carry fertilizers with which above-ground biomass of crops with high nitrogen content (e.g. grass/clover) is harvested and transferred to other fields as plant-based fertilizers. The objective of this study was to investigate the interactive effects of two tillage systems (reduced tillage (RT), standard tillage (ST)) and three organic fertilizer amendments (solid cattle manure (SCM), lucerne pellets (LP), grass/clover silage (GCS)) on crop performance and nitrogen utilization of organic potato. Use of RT decreased tuber yield by 13.4 % compared to ST due to lower average tuber size which was related to higher soil bulk density and increased vulnerability to drought stress during tuber bulking. On the other hand, use of RT positively affected nitrogen utilization and tuber quality in terms of specific gravity, dry matter and starch contents. However, the price premium associated with enhanced tuber quality may not offset the observed yield gap between RT and ST. Plant-based fertilizers enhanced nitrogen utilization in terms of apparent nitrogen recovery compared to animal-based. Although use of LP resulted in the highest yield for both tillage systems, its high price may be cost-inhibitive. An integrated approach taking into account N release patterns, environmental conditions, final yields, and production costs is needed in order to optimize resource use efficiency and overall profitability for farmers.