Looking for a way out of the potato crisis
The SolACE project of the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) is helping potato producers to prepare for the impacts of climate change.
In the 15 years before 2018, the price of potatoes in Hungary tripled. Also, Hungarian potato yields have been decreasing year by year. This year shops had already run out of Hungarian potatoes by April, and imported potatoes are getting more and more expensive. “Climate change and the potato crisis are directly linked, and plants in Europe suffer from the growing combined stress impact, leading to serious problems in agriculture” - said Dr. Dóra Drexler, researcher and manager of ÖMKi. Together with its European partners, ÖMKi is the only Hungarian organization specifically dealing with sustainable agriculture is investigating how the productivity of potatoes, which are one of our most important staple foods, can be maintained also in unfavourable habitats under drought conditions. As a result of the SolACE project, agriculture may obtain more resilient plant varieties and innovative agrotechnical methods.
ÖMKi’s are justified by the fact that in 2018 the yields of vegetables decreased throughout Europe as a result of droughts, and the price of potatoes significantly increased across the continent. “Weather extremities caused by climate change shock the plants by creating combined stress situations. This means that more sustainable solutions are needed not only in terms of nutrient supply – by replacing the use of artificial fertilizers – but also for increasing water utilization and water retention, since we are relying on finite resources and raw materials.” said Drexler in highlighting the core of the problem. “Within the SolACE-project we are trying to find out, together with our European partners, how potatoes, which are one of our most important staple foods, can be sustainably produced even under stress conditions caused by both the lack of water and nutrients while maintaining good quality and providing proper quantity at the same time.” said the project coordinator in explaining the background of the project.
Within the SolACE project –including 25 research, background industry related and consultant partners in 14 European countries – ÖMKi is performing farm level tests through its on-farm research network with the participation of Hungarian farmers. On the one hand ÖMKi is working on increasing the resilience of various varieties, while testing novel agrotechnical methods on the other. In the former case, for example, instead of a hybrid variety – which use tubers – another one produced through growing seedlings from the seeds will be tested under organic conditions. “At the moment, hybrid potatoes are not suitable for large-scale production, but they can be a real alternative in home garden potato production. However, agrotechnical innovation is the key to the solution” - said Drexler.
Soil is the basis for ÖMKi’s agrotechnical innovations: the Hungarian researchers investigate which crop rotation systems could be suitable for developing the structure of the soil while also increasing its water retention potential and organic matter content. “For instance, if we use legumes like peas, beans or soybeans as preceding crops, we can enrich the soil, since it is well-known that these plants can fix nitrogen from the air.” – explained the Hungarian leader of the project. As ÖMKi believes that soil microbes can be used to increase stress tolerance, the impact assessment of novel soil microbe inoculum combinations is also being carried out besides the modification of crop rotation.
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture: The Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) works on research-innovation tasks leading to practically implementable results, thus guaranteeing the sustainable development of agriculture and food production in Hungary. To this end the organization develops professional networks in cooperation with Hungarian and foreign research institutes and farmers, carries out research and information activities, and provides technical advice. Its oldest project called “On-farm research network” won the Agricultural Development Prize at the 78th National Agriculture and Food Exhibition and Fair (OMÉK) and also the E.on Energy Globe Award in 2018, and it is the only Hungarian project carrying out research in close cooperation with farmers by applying a practical approach to sustainable agriculture. The on-farm research method covers simple experiments conducted in real life situations on operating farms adapted to the production objectives defined by the farmers. The subjects of the experiments have been elaborated together by ÖMKi and the participating farms since 2012. The organization’s work has also been acknowledged by the Association of Environmental Enterprises through the charter called “For the protection of the environment” in 2019.