Potatoes were first introduced outside the Andes region four centuries ago, and have become an integral part of much of the world's cuisine. It is the world's fourth-largest food crop, following rice, wheat and maize. In Egypt the crop was introduced on a small scale during the nineteenth century. It is nowadays the second most important vegetable crop after.
- Solanum tuberosum
- Occurrence & Agricultural Importance in this Country:
- Cultivation Areas:
The area around Riyadh and Buraydah each account for about 35% of total production while the area south of As Sulayyil produces another 10%. Minor producing areas include Ha'il, Tabuk, Medina, Al Hufuf, and Dhahran.
- Main Varieties:
Virtually all seed potato in Saudi Arabia is certified. Seed for the spring planting is imported, chiefly from the Netherlands. The main varieties grown include Spunta, Ajax, Mirka, and Diamant.
- Marketing Information and Uses:
The annual diet of an average global citizen in the first decade of the 21st century included about 33 kg of potato. However, the local importance of potato is extremely variable and rapidly changing. It remains an essential crop in Europe (especially eastern and central Europe) where per capita production is still the highest in the world, but the most rapid expansion over the past few decades has occurred in southern and eastern Asia. China is now the world's largest potato-producing country, and nearly a third of the world's potatoes are harvested in China and India. Annual per capita consumption in Saudi Arabia is estimated to about 12 kg and potatoes are increasingly popular among urban population.
- Fresh and Processed
- The domestic market is serviced by a large number importers and wholesalers. The Netherlands, Turkey, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Egypt are all countries which supply the Saudi market.
- Crop Management:
Cultivation conditions and methods:
- Soil Type:
- Potatoes prefer well aerated, loamy soil with good drainage. Soil Salinity, water logging and high levels of calcium-carbonate are undesirable for potato cultivation as they negatively affect productivity and starch content. Groundwater salinity and high potential evapotranspiration make soil salinization a major risk in many areas of Saudi Arabia.
- Extremely hot summer temperatures reaching 50 °C and winter frosts in the mountains constitute the main constraints for production.
- Water Requirements:
All of Saudi Arabia is extremely arid with most of the country receiving less than 100mm rainfall annually. The location of potato crops and other cultivation is determined primarily by the availability of irrigation water, virtually all of which is pumped from underground aquifers. Major potato-producing areas are consequently located near well-established oases.
The traditional method of irrigation is furrow irrigation. Erosion caused by this method is one reason for a second ridging operation. Though furrow irrigation is still predominant, many farmers are experimenting with various overhead methods including sprinklers and central pivots. The timing and amount of irrigation are critical decisions for the farmer and depend on soil, weather conditions and the salinity of the irrigation water. In the spring, two to four irrigation applications are generally required before emergence. When the foliage is well developed, farmers irrigate every five or six days. In the autumn season irrigation begins immediately after planting and must be repeated frequently until after emergence to keep soil temperature low.
- Nutrition Requirements:
- Soil should be subjected to analysis for nutrient availability in order to develop an appropriate fertilization scheme.
- Harvesting Period:
- Harvesting twice a year. The spring crop is harvested in April/ May; the autumn crop is harvested in late December.
- Harvesting Methods:
- Most of the potato crop cultivation in Saudi Arabia is mechanised. About ten to fourteen days before harvest, the foliage is either cut by hand or sprayed with a defoliant. Small-scale farmers harvest by hand, but elevator diggers or fully automatic harvesting machines are used on large farms. Yields of 30-35 t/ha are common.
- Planting Period:
- Like their counterparts in many areas of the Middle East, Saudi farmers grow crops of potatoes twice yearly. The first crop is planted in January; the second in September/October.