Newswise — Mar. 1, 2018 – With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, thoughts turn to the Irish experience of the 1800s. This includes the devastating conditions in Ireland that led many to the U.S. The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) March 1 Soils Matter blog post explains the agricultural lessons behind the Irish Potato Famine.

Starting in September 1845, a potato disease ravaged fields and left behind shriveled, inedible tubers. Scientists have since attributed the potato blight to a quick-spreading strain of a soil fungus.

“A single infected potato plant could infect thousands more in just a few days,” says Jean E. McLain, University of Arizona.

In Ireland, fields generally contained one crop, year-after-year: the Lumper potato. This made the plants in Irish fields more susceptible to disease. “Conditions were ripe for the fungus to thrive at the expense of farmers and their families,” McLain explains.

But this tragedy needn’t be repeated. “Armed with this knowledge, researchers and farmers alike are improving and adopting practices like crop rotation, intercropping, and increasing crop diversity.”

To read the entire blog post, visit

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