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Plant Dis. 2010 Dec;94(12):1491-1502. doi: 10.1094/PDIS-03-10-0172.

Rotation and Cover Crop Effects on Soilborne Potato Diseases, Tuber Yield, and Soil Microbial Communities.

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United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, New England Plant, Soil, and Water Laboratory, Orono, ME 04469.


Seven different 2-year rotations, consisting of barley/clover, canola, green bean, millet/rapeseed, soybean, sweet corn, and potato, all followed by potato, were assessed over 10 years (1997-2006) in a long-term cropping system trial for their effects on the development of soilborne potato diseases, tuber yield, and soil microbial communities. These same rotations were also assessed with and without the addition of a fall cover crop of no-tilled winter rye (except for barley/clover, for which underseeded ryegrass was substituted for clover) over a 4-year period. Canola and rapeseed rotations consistently reduced the severity of Rhizoctonia canker, black scurf, and common scab (18 to 38% reduction), and canola rotations resulted in higher tuber yields than continuous potato or barley/clover (6.8 to 8.2% higher). Addition of the winter rye cover crop further reduced black scurf and common scab (average 12.5 and 7.2% reduction, respectively) across all rotations. The combined effect of a canola or rapeseed rotation and winter rye cover crop reduced disease severity by 35 to 41% for black scurf and 20 to 33% for common scab relative to continuous potato with no cover crop. Verticillium wilt became a prominent disease problem only after four full rotation cycles, with high disease levels in all plots; however, incidence was lowest in barley rotations. Barley/clover and rapeseed rotations resulted in the highest soil bacterial populations and microbial activity, and all rotations had distinct effects on soil microbial community characteristics. Addition of a cover crop also resulted in increases in bacterial populations and microbial activity and had significant effects on soil microbial characteristics, in addition to slightly improving tuber yield (4% increase). Thus, in addition to positive effects in reducing erosion and improving soil quality, effective crop rotations in conjunction with planting cover crops can provide improved control of soilborne diseases. However, this study also demonstrated limitations with 2-year rotations in general, because all rotations resulted in increasing levels of common scab and Verticillium wilt over time.


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