Potatoes move fast. Potatoes are great friends with maize and beans. They have one thing in common. They are all staple foods in Kenya. This fact makes Potato farming profitable because there is a huge demand for it in Kenya. Potato farming is good, however, there is one thing that greatly affects its production, and that is sourcing quality seeds. Well, there are other factors that also affect production but today I am going to talk about seeds.
This is what FAO says:
Potato yield is determined both by the crop per se and the environment. The former can be defined as internal causes including genetic identity, health, and physiology. The latter are external factors that consist mainly of temperature, light, nutrition, and water. The genotype determines tuber number, tuber size, and yield potential for any given cultivar. Then, the performance of yield is largely influenced by the health status of seed tubers and plants. The physiological age of seed tubers is also a factor that can affect the final yield. Since some external factors (such as light and temperature) cannot be controlled, we can only adjust the inputs of nutrition and water by appropriate fertilizer application and irrigation. Then, appropriate crop management practices should be applied to harmonize the relationship between the crop and the environment. It is the only way to get good yields. Unfortunately, we cannot control all external factors, but efforts can be made to optimize yields by using high-quality seed.
Genetic identity is modified by breeders through developing new cultivars. Healthy seed is the responsibility of seed producers, and only the physiological age of seed tubers can be adjusted by growers. After reviewing the history of potato breeding, it seems that all registered cultivars have similar yield potential; even some cultivars that have been cultivated for over
100 years can still yield 50 or 60 tons/ha if seed quality is good and, of course, under appropriate crop management. We can say that genotype at present is not a major constraint for getting higher yields. The physiological age of seed tubers can influence yield to a certain extent through adjusting growth speed. Old seed develops fast at an early stage and senesces earlier, which leads to relatively lower final yields. In contrast, young seed develops slowly at an early stage, but it can keep vigour longer and get higher final yields. The range of yield fluctuation adjusted by physiological age is not clear, but yield effects of physiological age are evident. Therefore, it is clear now that seed quality in terms of health and physiological status is a determinant factor of the yield potential of the potato crop.
So this bit of info is confirmed. What next?
How to grow and store your own potato seeds
Most people will tell you to buy certified seed potatoes and be safe. They are not wrong. Buying certified seeds from KALRO or any other organization that sells potato seeds is a good idea if you want healthy, disease-free crops, but these seed potatoes are usually very expensive. One bag of 50 Kg normally costs Ksh 3,000. You need 16 bags to grow one acre, That means you will need to have Ksh 48,000 to get started on one acre! If you want to grow 10 acres, the cost grows to Ksh 480,000. You have still not yet factored in seed transportation, ploughing, harrowing and chemical costs. Kwisha wewe!
The cheaper option
Approach a certified potato seed seller and buy a few bags of potatoes and start your own multiplication process. This is what I mean:
Assuming you want to grow 6 acres of potatoes in January but you do not have the money to buy 96 bags of potatoes. Do your research and look for certified seed sellers.
Examples include KALRO and CIP (International Potato Centre) – These guys actually sell seeds but contract farmers to grow and multiply disease-free potato using apical cutting for local distribution. An apical cutting is similar to a nursery-grown seedling except that it is produced through vegetative means and does not originate from a seed. I prefer these guys.
Where was I, oh yes:). Contact one of these guys and get your few bags of certified seeds. If you want to grow 6 acres then get seeds for an acre. An acre will give you between 100-200 bags of potatoes if done well.
It doesn’t end there though. You need to be smart and handle your seed production system well. Handle it like the pros.
Commercial potato farmers tend to use the same fields year after year, which increases the chance that diseases will infect the tubers. The small-time farmer (this is where you fall in) using their own seed potatoes would be wise to rotate their potato crops, if at all possible. Maintaining a weed-free area around the plants will also aid in retarding disease as will sowing in organic-rich, well-draining soil. You also need to do irrigation on your farm to maximize yields. You can allocate a specific just for seed production and put it under irrigation. This will give you assurity that you will always have seed during dry seasons.
Your seed potatoes will need a rest period before planting. The rest period induces sprouting, but improper storage can precipitate premature sprouting. Temperature fluxes can precipitate these premature sprouts, so it is important to practice proper seed potato storage. Harvest potatoes that you wish to use next year as seed potatoes and brush off, don’t wash, any dirt. Place them in a cool, dry area of around 10 C. Three to four weeks prior to planting, put the potatoes in an area with a brighter light, such as a sunny window or beneath grow lights. The seed potatoes should be maintained at a high humidity during this period.
Plan yourself well so that you can maximize on the best time to get good market prices. If you want to grow a big are in February, start now by growing a small area for multiplication.
All the best.