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Potato Prognosis for Mid-21st-Century Europe
Vandermeiren, K., Black, C., Pleijel, H. and De Temmerman, L.  2005.  Impact of rising tropospheric ozone on potato: effects on photosynthesis, growth, productivity and yield quality.  Plant, Cell and Environment 28: 982-996.

The authors of this review paper note that "in view of its importance for human nutrition, the European Commission funded a collaborative research programme (1998-99) to evaluate the impact of future increases in atmospheric ozone (O3) and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations on yield and tuber quality in potato (Solanum tuberosum L.)," which research endeavor, in their words, was "the first large-scale open-top chamber project to provide field-based data spanning a wide range of European climatic conditions and ozone concentrations for a widely used cultivar, cv. Bintje."

What was done
Intensive measurements of physiological and developmental effects of elevated CO2 and O3 were made on potatoes growing throughout Europe (Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, United Kingdom) over the two years of the study, the results of which were summarized by the authors.

What was learned
Overall, the relative yield losses expected to occur in response to O3 concentrations projected to prevail in Europe at mid-century were determined to be a mere 5%.  What is more, Vandermeiren et al. say the experimental findings suggest that "the prevailing conditions under climate scenarios for 2050 (including increases in temperature, solar radiation and CO2 and O3 concentrations) would increase [our italics] the yield of irrigated potato crops by 2000-4000 kg ha-1 [our italics again] in most regions in Europe, primarily because of the beneficial influence of increased atmospheric CO2 (Wolf and Van Oijen, 2003)."

What it means
In the words of the authors, it "appears that cv. Bintje, one of the most commonly grown cultivars in Europe because of its broad spectrum of quality attributes, may be relatively insensitive to O3."  Consequently, when the positive effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment are thrown into the mix, the future looks bright indeed for the potato plant, as well as for those who depend upon it for their sustenance; for according to Vandermeiren et al., the potato "offers great potential to meet food requirements due to its high ratio of edible to non-edible components."  Whereas they thus say that it has been "unclear whether agricultural production can meet the growing demands for food in developing countries where human populations are increasing rapidly (Chameides et al., 1999)," we have reason to believe that the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content may enable us to rise to the occasion and meet this looming challenge.

Chameides, W.L., Li, X., Tang, X., et al.  1999.  Is ozone pollution affecting crop yield in China?  Geophysical Research Letters 26: 867-870.

Wolf, J. and Van Oijen, M.  2003.  Model simulation of effects of changes in climate and atmospheric CO2 and O3 on tuber yield potential of potato (cv. Bintje) in the European Union.  Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 94: 141-157.

Reviewed 16 November 2005