Potatoes Case Study

Irrigation System Problem Detection for Potato Growers



Growers water and fertigate potato crops as evenly as possible to produce the highest-quality potatoes for buyers like McDonald’s. Underwatering stresses crops, and 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.

Project type: Potatoes

Location: Central North Dakota

Pivot irrigation issues can be identified with Ceres images, 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.

  • Plugged sprinkler nozzles caused the inner yellow ring seen at right, stressing plants by underwatering. 
  • In the image at the top of the page, a lighter-colored ring pattern shows drop pipes that were partially plugged, resulting in underwatering across a band of ground 200-300 feet wide.
  • Overwatering can also be detected by Ceres thermal imagery, showing up as darker circle patterns.

The Grower's Results

The bottom line:

A large potato grower in central North Dakota identified and solved irrigation system issues on 25% of fields flown by Ceres Imaging. Fixing those problems will 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."

John Vaadeland –  North Dakota and Minnesota Potato Agronomist who works for the grower 

Some of their results:
  • $45 an acre
    return on imaging investment where problems were detected and fry color was improved 6x