Impact of Dry Conditions on Potato Yield

Potatoes are a cool weather crop that require about an inch of water a week to produce the highest possible yield. There are two main reasons that potatoes are more sensitive to water stress than most other crops:

  • A shallow root system: Potatoes have a relatively shallow root system with most of the roots in the top 12 inches of soil.
  • Soil type: potatoes do well in sands and sandy loams, soils that have low to medium water-holding capacity.

High yields of high-quality potatoes can only be achieved by maintaining high levels of available soil moisture throughout the growing season. Without regular rainfall, frequent irrigation is necessary. Soil moisture becomes critical when the available soil water drops below 60-65 per cent. The impact of water stress will depend on the severity, timing and duration of moisture stress.

The table below shows the crop growth stages of potatoes and the amount of available water required for a high yield of good quality potatoes. Research in the US has shown that yield losses will occur if available soil water drops below required levels for more than five days.

Growth StageSoil Available Water RequirementYield Losses IF Available Water Below Required Levels

Growth Stage I
Sprout Development

75% available soil waterShort periods of drought stress do not reduce yield
Growth Stage II
Vegetative Growth
75% available soil water5%
Growth Stage III
Tuber Initiation
80% available soil water10%
Growth Stage IV
Tuber Bulking
90% available soil water40-60%
Highest demand for water. Adequate water is necessary for high yield.
Dry conditions favour tuber malformations
Growth Stage V
Tuber Maturation
60-65% available soil waterWater deficit causes tuber dehydration

If there is insufficient rainfall, irrigation is required to keep the available soil water in the root zone above the allowable depletion level. This ensures that the crop will not suffer water stress and will produce maximum yield.

For more information on dry conditions and low water visit our website at www.ontario.ca/crops and click on the Adverse Weather button.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Eugenia Banks - Potato Specialist/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 01 August 2007
Last Reviewed: 13 July 2012