LC-Potato-Growers-1.jpg A new study will dig deep into the soil to determine how watering and irrigation methods affect southern Alberta’s potato crops. The four-year research project is a partnership between Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Potato Growers of Alberta. It is made possible through a grant from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

The $397,595 grant allows for the study of five different potato fields throughout southern Alberta. The watering practices of two producers near Vauxhall, as well as farms near Bow Island, Chin and Taber, are being monitored. The diversity of fields allows researchers to study a variety of different soil types and topographies, which will give a holistic look at how moisture reacts with and affects potato crops. The research team will record how producers use their existing irrigation and available water sources and the outcome it has on crops in different parts of their fields.

“It's a really good inventory, we're not just saying ‘this is what happens in this one particular field,’’ says Dr. Willemijn Appels, Lethbridge College’s Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science. “We can actually say, ‘looking at this range of soil types and topographies, these are the main drivers or variations.’ We can then try to figure out what a producer can do with management and technology – where the sweet spot is they could use to increase their yield, increase their water use efficiency and eventually start looking at more expansion of irrigated areas.”

Dr. Appels and the Potato Growers of Alberta along with GrowTEC, had previously collaborated in a single-field variable rate irrigation study, and were looking to continue that type of work, which led to this unique partnership.

“In high-value crops like potatoes, there is a critical importance to understanding the optimal amount and timing of water use,” says Thomas McDade, Potato Growers of Alberta Agricultural Director. “If there is a drought, or when there are issues associated with climate change, we are very interested in understanding how to best manage the amount of water available to us. It’s part of the potato growing community’s commitment to be good stewards of their land and the environment.”

Left-to-right: Nathan Linder (lab/field technician), Blaire Harley (Lethbridge College student), Jason Cotton (Lethbridge College student), Carollynn Lemky (Lethbridge College student), Dr. Willemijn Appels (Lethbridge College’s Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science), Danielle Crawford (Lethbridge College alumna – MSc student Dalhousie University), Dr Rezvan Karimi (research associate)

The partnership will also support two masters-level projects in conjunction with the University of Saskatchewan. One will look at the irrigation decision-making process of producers, while the other will focus on studying the physical attributes of the land. As well, three students from Lethbridge College’s School of Environmental Sciences have been hired to conduct the research this summer.

“It's definitely a broad introduction to applied research for the students,” says Dr. Appels. “They'll have been exposed to methods to determine soil texture. But now they’re asked to do that from a perspective of looking at how does that texture influence how plants grow and use water? And they are also more involved in seeing how data is collected, and trying to shape that all into something that you can interpret and hopefully understand some new information from.”

The Canadian Agricultural Partnership is a five-year, $3 billion investment by federal, provincial and territorial governments to strengthen the agriculture and agri-food sector.

The Potato Growers of Alberta helps facilitate continued success in Alberta's potato industry by supporting sustainable production, marketing development and cooperation.

Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CARIE) is a catalyst for economic growth, sustainability and social development in the region that brings together community organizations, researchers and students to collaborate on projects that use new or existing knowledge to solve real-world challenges with immediate practical applications.

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LISTEN: Dr. Willemijn Appels, Lethbridge College’s Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science and Thomas McDade, Potato Growers of Alberta Agricultural Director discuss the project.