Physiology of the Potato: New Insights into Root System and Repercussions for Crop Management

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Potato roots are concentrated mostly in the plow layer up to 30 cm in soil depth. Some roots extend up to 100 cm depth and the total root length throughout the soil profile reaches about 10-20 km m-2 area. There are large differences in root mass (dry weight and length) in the plow layer between cultivars, breeding lines and wild relatives. The differences are generally stable across different environmental conditions, such as locations with different soil types, fertilizer rates and planting densities. Under favourable environmental conditions without severe shortage of water and nutrients, root mass differences between genotypes are related to maturity class: late genotypes continue root growth longer, and attain larger root mass and deeper rooting than early genotypes. Differences in root mass become clear at the start of flowering, much earlier than differences in shoot mass. Root mass is negatively correlated with early tuber bulking. However, root mass generally shows positive correlations with shoot mass and final tuber yield. Differences in root mass also exist amongst genotypes of the same maturity class. Using root mass in the plow layer and tuber yield as selection criteria, Konyu cultivars were bred in Japan. They showed significantly less reduction of leaf conductance and photosynthesis, leaf area and tuber yield than commercial cultivars under dry soil conditions. To assist breeding for root characters, new methods have been developed to assess the ability of roots to penetrate into hard soil layers using pots with paraffin-vaseline discs and the ability to absorb under low water potential in vitro. Physiological research on root characteristics contributed in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, to the development of new cultivars with high drought tolerance and to the improvement of irrigation practice.

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