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What is the Riddle of the Potato?

Touch the Soil News #354 (By Benjamin Gisin)

Years ago, as a young agricultural lender for one of the nation’s top agricultural banks, I had the chance to visit a potato farm. It was a routine inspection and a conversation ensued between myself and the potato farmer:

Gisin: Tell me how much potato seed do you plant per acre?

Potato Farmer: I plant about 20 sacks of potato seed pieces per acre. One sack equals 100 lbs.

Gisin: How much yield do you get per acre?

Potato Farmer: In an average year I will get around 350 sacks of potatoes from an acre.

Gisin: Why don’t you plant 30 sacks of seed per acre and a get a higher yield.

Potato Farmer: Young man, you don’t know much. If I planted 30 sacks of potato seed per acre they would be stunted and diseased. Nature cannot sustain such planting density.

1944 photo by the NARA of farmers loading a potato planter with sacks of seed potatoes. In days past, before mechanical diggers, potatoes were hand-picked and put into burlap sacks of approximately 100 lbs. Today, potatoes are still measured in terms of sacks.

Today, huge rainforest deforestation operations , over pumping of water resources and destruction of wildlife habit are racing to fill the global food gap. The planet has become a resource for immediate consumption. Are people subject to the same natural limitations as potatoes? Are smaller families the long-term key to saving the planet and the humanity that resides on it?

For perspective, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UCN) has reported that:

  1. 1 out of 8 birds are at risk of extinction
  2. 1 out of 4 mammals are at risk of extinction
  3. 1 out of 4 conifers are at risk of extinction
  4. 1 out of 3 amphibians are at risk of extinction
  5. 6 out of 7 marine turtles are at risk of extinction
  6. 75 percent of genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost
  7. 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully or over exploited

How healthy is humanity? If you were the potato farmer, would you conclude humanity, like the potato, must also live within the limits of its environment? Following is a short video clip potato planting in the early 2016 season.

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