USU Lecturer Team Assists Farmers to Increase Potato Production

DetailsMonday, 18 April 2022
DetailsDavid Kevin Handel Hutabarat

"Semangat Village is one of the villages located in Merdeka District, Karo Regency, approximately 70 km from the Universitas Sumatera Utara campus in Medan City. The team of lecturers from the Universitas Sumatera Utara through the Institute of Community Service has conducted a service village program in Semangat Village by producing several facilities, including clean water facilities that are used by the community to meet clean water needs, soil testing equipment to determine soil content, and agricultural tractors that are used by the community to do tillage and others."

During discussions with village officials and farmers in Semangat Village, the community encountered several problems. The first is related to the potato crop, which has always failed to develop by farmers in Semangat Village. In addition to good potato seeds and improper fertilization, leaf blight is one of the problems that farmers often face. When potato plants are affected by late blight, this will lead to crop failure. Proper treatment is important to overcome the problem of late blight on potato plants.

The second problem relates to the farmer's cropping pattern system, which plants the same commodity simultaneously. This causes the selling price of the product to fall at harvest time due to the high supply in the market. The habit of farmers planting the same product when the selling value is high, but when farmers plant a large area, it will cause a buildup of products at harvest time and will cause prices to fall. The planting calendar system that the Ministry of Agriculture has initiated does not seem to have been applied to the crop cultivation business in Semangat Village.

In addition, the fulfillment of manure as a nutrient for the plants cultivated in Desa Semangat is also a problem. Farmers generally accumulate manure around the land to be planted, where the manure is imported from lowland areas such as Deli Serdang and others. Bringing manure from other areas results in high purchase prices, increasing production costs, and reducing income. It is necessary to change the farmers' paradigm by utilizing their agricultural land. Layer chicken farming is a source of manure that can be applied to the land. Farmers can get short-term, medium-term, and long-term income by implementing layer farming. Eggs can be sold to the market, and chicken manure can be collected to prepare manure that will be used for crop cultivation.

One of the problems that farmers in the Merdeka Subdistrict often encounter is the high price of fertilizers and problems in using fertilizers. Most farmers have not been able to apply a balanced fertilization system because it requires expertise, capital equipment, or soil fertility analysis. Fertilization efficiency is needed to help farmers' limited capital capabilities. The calculation of fertilizer needs suitable for commodities on each land area must be carried out carefully so that the allocation of fertilizers is appropriate and right on target.

Finally, it relates to developing agricultural tourism or agro-tourism potential in Desa Semangat. Semangat Village is located in the hills of Gundaling, Tanah Karo Regency, and the agricultural area can be seen from Gundaling Hill. Even from the farmland of Semangat Village, you can see the full view of Mount Sinabung. Given this, it is very possible to develop Semangat Village's tourism potential into an agro-tourism area.

Crucial problems in community service carried out in Semangat Village include leaf blight on potato plants, laying hens and utilization of feces for manure, land conservation and balanced fertilizer, tourism development, and planting calendars as a reference for farmers' planting patterns. The USU Lecturer Team that conducts Community Service in Semangat Village seeks to assist farmers in solving these problems.

This activity began with an audience at the Merdeka District Office, Karo Regency. The team was welcomed by the Secretary of the Sub-District Head and the ranks in the Merdeka District. In the audience, the implementation team chaired by Dr. Ir. Hasnuddin, M.S., and the team explained the activities carried out in Semangat Village, which is the Assisted Village of the USU LPM.

On July 10, 2021, the implementation team held a workshop and technical guidance on providing material to farmers in Semangat Village, which was also attended by the Head of Semangat Village Resmando Sinulingga, S.Sos. Also present were Team Leader Dr. Ir. Hasanuddin, M.S., and also the Dean of the USU Faculty of Agriculture Dr. Ir. Tavi Supriana, M.S., as well as the activity sub-title coordinator and his team. The activity was opened by the Dean of the USU Faculty of Agriculture, who represented the Head of the USU LPM.

The people of Semangat Village generally make a living as farmers. In terms of farming, the community needs fertilizer, especially organic fertilizer sourced from chicken manure. Every farmer who starts farming first gives chicken manure as a basic fertilizer. However, in some conditions, less fertilizer is purchased. This is an obstacle for farmers. Based on the problems experienced by the people of Semangat Village, the team conducted training on cultivating laying hens so that the shortage of several sacks of chicken manure could be met.

After the training, the team also discussed the construction of layer cages with the community. The chicken coop was built in one of the fields not far from the community settlement. The cage can accommodate as many as 100 laying hens. The cage system is made of an umbaran cage, but around the cage is given a net so chickens cannot escape. The team agreed with farmers to conduct a demonstration plot of land conservation and balanced fertilizer with potato commodities. Potatoes were chosen because they are an agricultural product with high economic value. Still, farmers are a little reluctant to cultivate potatoes in the field because planting potatoes requires a large capital to get good results.

The problem that farmers in Semangat Village often face is the attack of diseases on potato plants. One of the main diseases that attack potatoes is late blight, caused by the pathogen Phytophthora infestans (Mont). The formation and germination of P. infestans conidium is strongly influenced by temperature, humidity, and rainfall. Spores/pathogens are spread by wind, water, or insects. Suppose P. infestans spores reach wet potato leaves. In that case, the pathogen spores will germinate by releasing zoospores or directly forming sprouting tubes, then enter the plant, and finally, late blight infection of potato plant leaves occurs. Spores that fall to the ground will infect potato tubers, and decay can occur in the soil or potato storage.

Late blight on potatoes is usually common in upland potato-growing areas with low temperatures and high humidity. Late blight caused by the pathogen P. infestans develops quickly if favorable environmental conditions include temperatures of 18-21oC with high air humidity (RH) (above 80%). Based on the habits and experience of potato farmers, late blight usually occurs after 5–6 weeks after planting.

Climate change greatly affects cropping patterns, planting areas, and crop production. Every year, farmers face seasonal shifts related to changes in rainfall patterns. In addition, climate change causes extreme dry conditions due to El Nino and extreme wet conditions due to La Nina. These conditions trigger the threat of floods, droughts, and attacks by plant-disrupting organisms that result in reduced crop production and even crop failure.

Tomato farming is carried out by farmers in the Assisted Village of Semangat Village, Merdeka District, Karo Regency, especially farmers who are members of the Arih Ersada Farmer Group, which is the target of the Assisted Village Service program, applies the tumpeng sari system. The tumpeng sari agricultural system combines tomatoes, chilies (red and green chilies), and shop leaves in one planting point. This system is carried out to minimize losses incurred due to prices cornered during the harvest season. Tomatoes that have entered the harvest period but are at market price are considered by farmers to be less suitable for the cost of planting and maintaining tomato plants or even only get a little profit, and farmers prefer to let the tomatoes rot in the field.

The quickest solution to this problem is building a tourist spot, “Wisata Petik Sayur.” Consumers will come to the vegetable fields of Desa Binaan Desa Semangat, Merdeka Sub-district, Karo Regency, where the price tends to be higher than the price of vegetable traders/collectors. The solution to framing horticultural agricultural activities in the Assisted Village of Spirit Village, Merdeka Subdistrict, Karo Regency, into “Vegetable Picking Tourism” will not only increase the selling price but also open up opportunities to be able to increase the absorption of horticultural production in the Assisted Village of Spirit Village, Merdeka Subdistrict, Karo Regency, even for production products that are considered to have failed to meet market demand. The “Vegetable Picking Tourism Village” initiation activity in the Assisted Village of Semangat Village, Merdeka District, Karo Regency, was carried out by building tourist resting gazebos next to the vegetable fields named USU Bamboo Huts. The community of Desa Binaan Desa Semangat, Merdeka District, Karo Regency, plans to develop this vegetable picking with the addition of strawberry commodities, which will be gardened around the USU bamboo hut so that it can add beauty.

The community service activities of the fostered village program in Semangat Village, Karo Regency, were closed on December 12, 2021. At the end of this activity, the implementing team assisted in the form of 1 unit of rotary tillage cultivator, fertilizer, and also plant seeds. This assistance was handed over directly by the head of the implementation team, Dr. Ir Hasanuddin, M.S and witnessed directly by the Dean of the USU Faculty of Agriculture, Dr. Ir. Tavi Supriana, M.S. and all team members and the community of Semangat Village, Merdeka District, Karo Regency. (Extracted from work report/RJ)

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