Hot Potatoes

With advancing climate change have potatoes had their chips?

Looking back over the International Year of the Potato, Marco Bindi (University
of Florence) answers the question "What effect will global warming have on
the potato?"

"Since potato's tuberization rate declines above a temperature of 17°C, increasing temperatures may lead to reduced yields in potato
varieties now cultivated close to the upper climatic limits of the crop that
would not be recovered by higher levels of carbon dioxide" says Bindi.
Conversely, in northern Europe, simulations have shown that a warmer climate
would bring about a longer growing season and increase in potato yields.
Increases in temperature may also open up new regions available to potato
growing that were previously too cold. However, the global picture for potatoes
in a warming climate is poor. "The most vulnerable area is the tropical
belts" says Bindi, "where the loss [in yield] could be more than 50
percent". Arid regions currently used for potato production will also see a
drop in productivity due to water shortages.

Pests and diseases

Changes in climate also result in mixed consequences for pests and diseases
of potato. Bindi predicts that late blight could increase significantly, but
that the new zones for production opening up further north will have minimal
blight risk. Research also indicates increases in the diffusion of Colorado
beetle in Europe and increases in the regions infested by potato cyst nematode
are expected.

Adapting to climate change

Bindi has a number of suggestions to aid in the adaptation to a changing
climate. These include consideration of planting date, use of different
varieties and improving soil water supply. Bindi adds "Another strategy is
shifting potato production towards areas of higher productivity or areas where
there is currently no potato production".

References

FAO, 2009. International Year of the Potato 2008 – New light on a hidden
treasure
. An end-of-year review. FAO, Rome, Italy: 136 pp.

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