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Argentina: Tool to control potato pests and diseases

Growing potatoes increases the pressure of pests and diseases, which usually results in the intensive use of plant protection products. To avoid unnecessary applications, a team of specialists from INTA's Balcarce Integrated Unit and the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the National University of Mar del Plata, designed a tool to help producers make decisions. The tool, which is called the SGC Calidad Papa (SGC Quality Potato), is a quality management system that aims at maintaining the potato crop's health, and was tested in fields with high levels of production.

Gladys Clemente, who is a professor of Phytopathology at the FCA-UNMdP and a researcher at the Balcarce Integrated Unit said: "Usually, producers make fungicide applications based on preset calendar schemes to manage diseases."

The potato is an intensive crop that "is grown in large areas and that requires intensive applications to prevent the development of diseases that can cause major losses, such as potato blight," Clemente said.

"Decision-making, tailored to the crops real needs, reduces potato production costs by reducing the number of fungicide applications, protects the environment, and ensures producers obtain safe food," Clemente argued.

According to FAO, the potato is the third biggest food crop, after rice, and wheat. In fact, it occupies a prominent place in the diet of the Argentinians, who consume an average of nearly 60 kilos of potatoes per year.

According to Clemente, the SGC Calidad Papa system will allow producers to manage the pests and diseases that affect the crop at any time of the production cycle in an appropriate and correct manner. "This tool allows producers to make decisions regarding the application of phytosanitary products based on technical-agronomic knowledge acquired from the permanent monitoring of the crops, in combination with risk forecasts, and laboratory diagnosis," she said.

"Apart form field monitorings and laboratory diagnosis, the quality management system includes a record of meteorological variables in situ to calculate the risk of diseases," Clemente said. "By using a very clear graph, which is similar to a stop light, we send reports to the producers or consultant warning them about the current possibility of disease development and a forecast for the next five days," she added.

This information is reported through several weekly newsletters and helps producers identify the right time to make the applications. "Our goal is to provide this information to other potato producing regions of the country. To do this, we are working on the creation of networks with professionals from other INTA units and Agronomy faculties," the specialist said.

Due to its impact, this project received $35,000 from the Innovar Awards in the Applied Research category. Specialists Marcelo Atilio Huarte, Maria Cecilia Bedogni, Andrea Eugenia Salvalaggio, Marino Marcelo Puricelli, Sebastian Emilio Boracci, and Veronica Elizabeth Crovo also participated in the research.

Recently, SGC Calidad Papa was presented at the Hackaton Agro held in Tandil, on December 3 and 4. The project was also invited to participate in the First Symposium on Bioeconomics of the South Central Pampeana Region, to be held in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires.

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