Impact of Chloropicrin Soil Fumigation on Potato Farming in Uncertain Times

Potato farmers are facing changes in established markets during the Covid-19 crisis.  There are reports of increased demand for all potatoes at the supermarket.  However, stay at home orders have severely reduced demand for restaurant and institutional products.  The potato market is shifting to meet new product demands and provide an outlet for those products that no longer are in as much demand.  These market uncertainties are touching all segments of our industry; seed, processing, and fresh potatoes.

When the market is in flux, what are the business concepts that buttress against losing market share?  One must double down on business concepts that one can directly control.  In changing times, a potato farmer must grow (and store) quality product, improve crop production efficiency, and deliver product on time.  The market historically favors those producers that provide quality product, that produce efficiently, and that reliably supply quality product when needed.  This blog will focus on crop quality and crop production efficiency and how chloropicrin soil fumigation can improve both components of a successful operation.  

Crop quality is determined by many factors.  These factors include (but are not limited to) choosing potato varieties suited to the growing region, proper disease suppression, rate and timing of fertilization & irrigation, managing maturity at harvest, appropriate harvest and grading equipment and procedures, and appropriate storage conditions.  A farmer needs to be an expert agronomist, horticulturist, and plant pathologist. Or, a farmer needs to be able to draw upon all that expertise to produce a quality crop.  

Crop quality sells the crop.  However, crop production efficiency is what secures a sustainable farming operation.  Crop production efficiency is defined as the ratio of crop output (yield) to crop input (everything it takes to grow the crop). In other words, a measure of how a farm can produce more product with less cost.   It is not enough today to produce a quality crop.  A farm must make continual gains in crop production efficiency to stay successful.

One positive driver for increasing crop production efficiency is improvement in marketable yield/acre or marketable yield/farm.  Following, are two examples of this.  First, if it costs $3,000 to produce an acre of potatoes and that acre yields 300 cwt, then each cwt costs $10 to produce.  With a $12 contract per cwt, the farmer makes $2 a cwt.  However, if that same acre produced 400 cwt, then each cwt would cost $7.50 to produce.  With that same $12 contract per cwt, the farmer would make $4.50 a cwt.  In this simple example, the farmer producing 300 cwt/A nets $600 per acre.  However, the farmer producing 400 cwt/A nets $1,800 per acre.  Of course, a higher yield would incur higher harvest, grading, and storage costs.  The example, however, does show the powerful impact of crop production efficiency on potential net return per acre. 

Secondly, let us imagine a 500-acre farm that produces 300 cwt/A of marketable potatoes at $3,000/A.  This farm produces 150,000 cwt of potatoes annually to meet contracts.  Total cost of production on that 500-acre farm is $1,500,000 annually.  If crop production is increased to 400 cwt/A, the farm can produce the required 150,000 cwt of potatoes on 375 acres of farmland reducing planted acres by 125.  An increase in crop production efficiency per acre reduces the annual cost of production by $375,000 (125 acres x $3,000/acre).  The same amount of potatoes is produced with a crop production savings of $375,000.  

It is important in changing times to improve crop quality and crop production efficiency to maximize your return on crop investment – produce more with less.  Farmers should look to new cultural and chemical strategies that can improve the quality, production efficiency, and sustainability of your crop and your operation.  Chloropicrin soil fumigation can positively impact these key components contributing to the success of a farming operation in difficult times.  

Chloropicrin improves tuber quality by reducing soil borne diseases such as common scab, Rhizoctonia, and black dot, and verticillium wilt that negatively impact both skin quality and yield.  Chloropicrin, therefore, can increase baseline marketable yield (crop quality) through disease suppression.  However, many potato varieties grown in chloropicrin treated soil produce a larger tuber set – more tubers per plant.  A combination of a higher percentage of marketable tubers combined with more tubers per acre leads to improvement in crop production efficiency.  In multiple studies, chloropicrin soil fumigation has increased potato crop production efficiency over 20% contributing to a more sustainable farming operation.

When uncertainty enters the market, it is time to look to new practices to improve the sustainability of the farmland and the farm operation.  Chloropicrin soil application in potato production is more important today for improving farm sustainability and maintaining market position as it has ever been.