Resource use efficiencies as indicators of ecological sustainability in potato production: A South African case study

J.M. Steyn, A.C. Franke, J.E. van der Waals, A.J. Haverkort

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Potato, the most important vegetable crop in South Africa, is produced in many distinct geographical regions differing in climate, soils, production seasons and management practices and access to markets. These differences affect the amount of input resources required to produce potatoes as well as yields and crop value, and therefore the use efficiencies of land, water, nutrients, seed and energy. Resource use efficiencies affect the ecological and financial sustainability of potato production in this region, which has in general less favourable potato growing conditions than north-western Europe and the U.S.A., where high resource use efficiencies are usually recorded. This study aimed to assess and benchmark South African potato production regions, representing a wide range of growing conditions, regarding their use of input resources and to identify resource-intensive practices, which may suggest inefficient use of inputs. Surveys were conducted in 2013 and 2014 by interviewing growers in all production regions, to provide data on resource use efficiencies. Quantitative modelling approaches were applied to calculate carbon footprints as a proxy of energy use efficiency, potential crop yields and irrigation needs for each region. Variability in the gap between potential and actual yield was used to identify yield limiting factors. Actual yields achieved were on average 60% of the potential yield, suggesting fairly efficient use of available production factors. Water, seed and nutrient use efficiencies differed widely between and within regions and were not directly proportional to water requirements and yields achieved. Fertilizers (34%) and irrigation (30%) were the greatest contributors to energy use in potato crop production. Energy required to pump water was strongly related to the amount of irrigation applied, pumping depth and distance. Long distance travel of produce to retail points contributed substantially to energy use. Significant improvements in efficiencies are possible by improving management practices. Analysis of the variability in resource use efficiencies between farms and regions provided production sustainability indicators that can assist growers in identifying inefficient practices and yield limiting factors. These can be addressed through the use of decision support systems, such as irrigation scheduling tools, to improve resource use efficiencies and the sustainability of production, not only for the production efficiency of the specific study area, but also for the economic efficiency of potato production anywhere else.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-149
JournalField Crops Research
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Agricultural input
  • Agro-ecological zones
  • Carbon footprint
  • Competitiveness
  • Crop model
  • Yield gap analysis
  • Yield potential

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