The Importance of Using Certified Potato Seeds

The Importance of Using Certified Potato Seeds
Vegetables

Mutuma Kennedy

Agronomist - Farmer

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The potato crop is the 3rd most important crop in Kenya. The crop faces a myriad of challenges and many opportunities throughout the value chain. Potatoes are commonly grown by small-scale farmers on small farms starting from as low as 0.6 acres (0.25 hectares). There are numerous varieties in Kenya that are grown for different market targets.

There are many varieties of Irish potatoes cultivated around the world. We can easily classify them based on their color, maturity, disease resistance, and use. We have the white and red varieties. They can also be classified based on the content of dry matter and the purpose of use. For instance, some varieties are good for baking, frying, and mashed cooking (table varieties). The varieties have different characteristics, such as different levels and specificity of resistance or tolerance (or susceptibility/sensitivity) to different pathogens, pests, or/abiotic stresses (e.g., drought, frost, etc.). It is important to note that the white varieties are highly susceptible to heat and light.

The grower should always choose a variety that fits the needs (quality characteristics) of the target market in which he/she is interested in selling the end product. For example, while there are some potato varieties for multiple uses, many are more suitable for specific purposes like the production of chips or french fries, mashed potatoes (table varieties), or starch production. Varieties cultivated to produce french fries require high dry matter content. This reduces the absorption of cooking oil during frying. Those grown for mashing require high water content. The taste varies among the different varieties.

After determining the target market, farmers need to supply certified potato seeds to start their crop. In Kenya, we have 52 registered seed varieties. The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service is the authorized board that licenses, certifies, and registers seeds here in Kenya. The demand for certified seed in Kenya is very high. Only 5 % of 1.5 million farmers plant certified seeds, while the rest use recycled seeds collected from last season’s crop. This, however, has caused reduced production due to poor seed health and vigor. The average production per acre is 8-12 tons per acre in Kenya. However, nowadays, there are companies launching new varieties in the market promising yields of 15-20 tons per acre. Potatoes are sold in gunny bags weighing around 87 kg to 100 kg. This is not standardized because packaging depends on the off-take requirement. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of using certified seeds as planting material.

The farmers must be trained to apply good agricultural practices and recognize the importance of using high-quality, disease-free propagation material (potato seeds). Farmers also need to understand the importance of doing a pathological test on their farms to ensure that they know about their farms properly. In 2019, we did a pathological test with local farmers in my region. We wanted to determine the presence of cyst nematodes (or not) in the soils. We took samples from 23 farms, and they were all infected. This confirmed the importance of always performing a pathological test on our farms from time to time (especially when we have visible symptoms in the crop) or before establishing a new crop. The problem has become significant because the potato producers in these 23 farms were unaware of the problem and constantly used the same susceptible and infested potatoes repeatedly.

Maintaining potato seed health at the farm level is an exceptionally difficult task in Kenya (and other countries) since smallholder farmers are usually not sufficiently knowledgeable and equipped to meet the set standards of ensuring they can grow disease-free potatoes. For instance, the control of aphids is a challenge here in Kenya. Aphids transmit the potato leaf rolling virus (PLR). This virus causes a significant reduction in potato production and is transmitted through the propagation material to the progeny plants.

Based on these various factors, we recommend that farmers use certified seed from legitimate merchants.

We note the following;

  1. Different countries have different set standards for their farmers. Therefore, it is important to follow the guidelines set in your country and acquire certified seed.
  2. The cost of buying potato seed is 50% of your production cost; thus, take care of your crop to reduce the cost in your next planting season.

Further reading

Hybrid Potatoes – A Climate-Smart Solution for Potato Farmers

The Potato: A Journey through Time, and Cultures

How to grow Potatoes

The Potential Impact of Generative AI on the Potato Industry

The Impact of Climate Change on the Potato Industry and Possible Solutions

Soil Health and Potato Yield: Cultivating a Sustainable Future from the Ground Up

Potato Planting Seeding Rate and Plant Spacing

Soil Preparation and Soil Requirements for Potatoes

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