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Aeroponic Technology: Revolutionising Potato Seed Production

To produce the high quality and healthy seeds, ICAR-Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla has developed soilless aeroponic technology for potato seed production

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Being a vegetatively propagated crop, potato faces numerous kinds of seed-borne diseases which affect the crop yield. To produce the high quality and healthy seeds, ICAR-Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla has developed soilless aeroponic technology for potato seed production. Mohd Mustaquim reports about the technological development and its journey towards helping farmers

Potato, being stapled with most of the vegetables being prepared, reaches to the kitchen through a long journey and scientific research. However, a vegetatively propagated crop, it is subjected to large number of seed-borne diseases, affecting the yield. In addition, there have been limitations with availability of quality and healthy seeds in such crops.

The conventional seed production technology based on ‘seed plot technique’ is successfully being used in India since last five decades for quality potato seed production. It comprises of tuber indexing for all major viruses and clonal multiplication of virus free mother tubers in four cycles for breeder seed production.

Short comings with traditional seeds
It happens to be imperative to adopt innovative technologies to produce good quality, healthy and high yielding seed varieties. The breeder seed produced by ICAR-Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla (CPRI) is supplied to various state government organisations for further multiplication in three more cycles, such as Foundation Seed 1 (FS-1), Foundation Seed 2 (FS-2) and Certified Seed (CS) under strict health standards. The entire process takes four years. However, the efforts and time do not translate into a desired result as the breeder seed multiplication at state level organisations is often multiplied up to FS -1 stage. As a result, there a big shortfall in the availability of certified seeds in the country.
 

Soilless Aeroponic Technology
Keeping the circumstances in view, CPRI has standardised a number of high-tech seed production systems based on tissue culture and micropropagation technologies. The latest hi-tech system developed by the institute is based on the concept of soilless aeroponic technology. The aeroponic system has potential to once again revolutionise potato seed sector.

Use of high yielding varieties and quality planting materials are two important prerequisites for healthy seed potato production. Low rate of tuber multiplication, high seed (tuber) rate, progressive accumulation of degenerative viruses, perishability and bulkiness are inherent problems in potato seed production. This may result in non-availability of adequate quantity of quality seeds at affordable price. Further, seed cost alone reflects 40-50 percent to the total costs of cultivation in potato. Recent developments in automation of minituber production have further enhanced adaptability of these techniques in potato seed production. In addition to quality assurance through meristem culture, aeroponic technique of minitubers production ensures high multiplication rate at initial stages of seed potato production.

Aeroponic is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate media. The word aeroponic is derived from the Latin word ‘aero’ (air) and ‘ponic’ means labour (work). This is an alternative method of soilless culture in nutrient solutions under controlled environments.

Highlighting about the use of the technology, Dr. SK Chakrabarti, Director, ICAR-Central Potato Research Institute, said, “Being a clonally propagated crop, potato is sensitive to perpetual viral diseases over the successive generations. Therefore, quality seed potatoes are produced under aeroponic using virus-free in vitro plants, which are regenerated through various tissue culture-based techniques.” “Aeroponics is one of the most rapid method of propagation for seed potato production using in vitro plants. The technique allows to produce large numbers of healthy minitubers in one generation, thus eliminating the need for more field multiplications thereby reducing costs and saving time,” Chakrabarti added.  

The use of aeroponic technology in potato breeder seed production shortens the process from four years to two years. It could revolutionise the potato seed industry in India. Farmers will be benefited through this technology by getting the healthy planting material within time.

The drawbacks
The potential challenge of the technology is the worst inconvenience relies on water droplet size. Large droplets lead to less oxygen available to the roots, while fine droplets produce excessive root hair without developing a lateral root system for sustainable growth. The system also requires constant power supply throughout the growing season and any prolonged interruption of power to water-pumps may lead to irreversible damages to the plants.

The system requires a number of maintenance operations which may be costly in developing countries. For instance, mineralisation of the ultra-sonic transducers requires maintenance and may be prone to potential components failure. This may also lead to failure of metal spray jets and misters which may restrict the plant to have an access to the water thereby, causing the plant to lose turgidity and wilt. The technicians managing the aeroponics need to have additional knowledge of crop physiology.

Potato seed production through soilless aeroponic-technology_0.jpg

The Journey
Since 2011, the aeroponics system has been commercialised to several companies by CPRI. Currently CPRI produces 3,186.82 tonnes of nucleus and breeder seed of 25 varieties, out of which 70 percent is through conventional - nethouse-cum-field - system whereas, 30 percent through high-tech - tissue culture-based - system.

As there is limited scope to increase quantity of breeder seed at CPRI farms, possibilities are being explored with the help of State Agricultural Universities (SAUs), Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) and private farmers to identify the new areas of seed production, multiplication of breeder seed into Foundation Seed (FS)-I, FS-II and CS under Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) and to produce seed through hi-tech system with the help of entrepreneurs and private companies.

The institute has generated revenue of Rs one crore as licensing fee by commercialisation of this technology to 14 firms from different states such as Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab and Haryana. Each firm was licensed to produce 10 lakh minituber by aeroponic system.

On the commercialisation of the technology, Dr. Tanuja Buckseth, Scientist - Seed Technology Division, CPRI says, “Even if each licensed firm is operating at half of its potential, about 6.5 million minitubers will be produced. At an average rate of productivity of 25 tonne per hectare, it will produce 70,500 tonnes of potato seeds. This has generated revenue of worth Rs 250 crore in the Indian economy.”

Combating climate change
According to the scientists in CPRI, the institute is working on the issue of climate change simultaneously. “The various adaptation strategies to combat the impact of climate change on potato productivity may include breeding short duration and heat tolerant cultivars, developing potato cultivars that tuberises at higher night temperatures,” Buckseth added.

Breeding drought and salinity tolerant cultivars would be effective to face the future challenges of climate change. Use of wind breaks around fields and crop residue mulches for some period after planting, using drip and sprinkler irrigation in place of furrow and basin methods and altering cultural management in potato based cropping systems are few examples of agronomic management practices to reduce the impact of climate change.

Besides, conservation tillage and on farm crop residue management are required to increase input use efficiency. Advance planning for possible relocation and identifying new areas for potato cultivation is needed. Improvement and augmentation of cold storage facilities and air conditioned transportation from producing to consumption centers will be required for storage and transportation of this semi-perishable commodity. Strengthening education, research and development in warm climate production technology is also required to meet the production targets in future climates. 

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