Adopting stem cutting in potato seed production can reduce by more than a half the major fungal and viral diseases of potatoes such as blight, black scurf and Potato Leaf Roll Virus (PLRV) and Potato Virus Y (PVY) respectively as compared to using tubers.
This is according to the latest report by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) on Seed Potato Production and Certification Course which indicated that some of the constraints facing the potato industry are inadequate supply of certified planting materials and attack by pests and diseases.
Botanists assert that planting stem cuttings works best in areas prone to high humidity because stem cuttings are not adhered to any root system w
“Using potato tubers as propagation materials is very risky because it is very easy for the diseases to be spread from one infected piece to the other and controlling the outspread can be difficult for farmers,” said Gentrics Juma, officer at KEPHIS seed inspection department.
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Stem cutting, therefore, is one of the initial disease management practices that farmers can adopt to preserve soil and improve the crop production.
“Healthy planting materials do not have bacterial wilt, black leg, nematodes or any other diseases that could damage soil or reduce productivity in the farm,” read the report in part.
Stem cuttings, for example, are produced from tissue culture plantlets in a screen house for two to three weeks and after rooting, they are planted in the fields. This is different from producing potatoes from mini-tubers.
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A cutting can produce up to 24 tubers which are then multiplied for two season before harvesting and they are not at risk of diseases even after planting for several seasons.
Currently, stem cutting planting materials can be accessed from Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) and other private seed companies in the country.
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According to Gentrics, though a farmer cannot propagate the seedlings at farm level, once they purchase the seedling going for Sh15, they can make a nursery and plant them for propagation.
With 1,000 cuttings at a cost of Sh15,000, a seed multiplier is projected to produce 76 50kg bags of seed potato after two seasons of multiplication. This can greatly help in reducing seed potato shortages in the country.
KALRO is aiming at increasing collaboration with upcoming seed entrepreneurs in the private sector in order to bring about capacity building by hosting hands-on training for the seed producers.
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One acre can produce over 20,000 clean seeds developed from the stem of a potato.
In addition, the use of certified seeds is key as it fetches great opportunities and profits.
“Seed certification assures farmers of trueness to type of the variety and health status of the seed, and that the use of certified seed together with application of proper agricultural practices will create sustainable potato production that ensures high potato yields of high quality.”
However, in case of infections farmers can use simple control methods such as crop rotation with non- solanaceous crops such as maize, use of registered pesticides and fungicides, use of clean and disinfected tools and equipment, early harvesting of seed crop, field and store hygiene sanitation and rogueing of diseased plants and removing any newly formed tubers of those plants.