Growers water and fertigate potato crops as evenly as possible to produce the highest-quality potatoes for buyers. Yet, underwatering stresses crops, while overwatering can deprive roots of some applied nitrogen. Water stress can mean dark fry color in portions of a crop, resulting in deductions and a lower price paid by processors.

Imaging systems from Ceres Imaging, Oakland, Calif., can identify pivot irrigation issues, thus saving crop quality.

Ceres flew over pivot-irrigated potatoes in central North Dakota, providing early-season thermal imagery that identified sprinkler system problems before potato crops were damaged by over or underwatering.

A light-colored ring in the center of the image revealed a sprinkler nozzle that was completely plugged. A slightly larger dark ring is from overwatering nozzles.

A potato grower in central North Dakota identified and solved irrigation system issues on 25% of fields flown by Ceres Imaging. Fixing those problems cut down on lower-quality potatoes sent to the processor.

“If you have any kind of water stress in potatoes, it can lead to fry color problems in French fries. Ceres imagery helped us to detect irrigation issues we couldn’t visually see early in the season. Thermal imagery is extremely important in the early stages of crop development for determining sprinkler problems,” says John Vaadeland, North Dakota and Minnesota potato agronomist.