Mustard can help with pest control

Melanie ConsCanadian Farm News

P.E.I. potato farmers are incorporating more mustard into crop rotations

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Mustard on some Prince Edward Island farms is helping give future potato crops a head start.

Farmers are increasingly adding mustard to their crop rotations. Local farmers planted about 15,000 acres of mustard in 2016, and it appears they will seed a similar acreage this year.

“We don’t have a concrete number but it’ll be in the thousands of acres,” Greg Donald, president of the P.E.I. Potato Board, told today.

Mustard helps control wireworm, which causes about $10 million worth of annual crop damage in P.E.I. by burrowing holes in potatoes and making them unfit for sale.

Instead of harvesting the mustard, farmers work the crop into the soil. As the mustard breaks down, it releases a biofumigant that controls wireworm and similar pests.

The crop also has other advantages, said John Hogg, a 2,000-acre potato and grain producer from Summerside, P.E.I.

“If you incorporate the mustard into the soil it can have some weed control benefits,” he told today. “It can also be good for soil health overall. We’re just waiting for documentation to give us firm results.”

Some farmers have also found potato yield benefits after a mustard crop.

Those boosts are a result of mustard’s ability to fight off several pests and diseases, said Ryan Barrett, research coordinator with the P.E.I. Potato Board.

“In potatoes we battle quite a few soil-borne fungi like rhizoctonia and common scab, which can affect skin finish on potatoes,” he told today. “We’re definitely seeing some growers with yield boosts and we think part of that is mustard’s ability to manage these kinds of diseases.”

A good crop rotation can help break up disease cycles and promote microbe development in soils, Barett added.