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Europa 27/03/2024

Polonia: ‘Drip by drip’: Engel Louwes’s innovative approach to sustainable potato farming with drip irrigation

In the ever-evolving landscape of agriculture, the push towards more sustainable and efficient farming practices has never been more critical.

Amidst this transformative period, Engel Louwes, a veteran consultant in the potato industry with an illustrious career spanning near four decades, is leading the charge in revolutionizing potato farming through the implementation of drip irrigation systems.

His extensive work, particularly in Poland and now extending to India, offers a blueprint for the future of potato cultivation worldwide.

A Lifetime Dedicated to Potatoes

Engel Louwes, leading Engel Louwes Potato Consultancy, has dedicated his occupational life to the potato industry.  His journey in the potato sector began in the early eighties, working first for a breeding company related to Avebe, a large starch company in Holland, before moving on to HZPC, where he spent the majority of his career.

Engel Louwes

Louwes’s roles have been diverse, from managing central grading and storage facilities to specializing in seed potatoes and eventually becoming a product manager for processing potatoes.

“My job was to support processors – crisps and French fries – how to grow our commercial varieties and select out of the clones from the breeding department potential new varieties,” he recalls.

“In Europe I had contact with all the processors, but I travelled also to many countries to other parts of the world, such as the US, Canada, Middle East, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, North Africa and Russia.”

Engel Louwes’ career reflects the significant technological and methodological advancements in the potato industry, from communal storage practices to the modern era where seed producers manage their operations with cutting-edge technology.

The Polish Project: A Turning Point

Louwes’s recent collaboration with Szymon Cena, a Polish farmer managing a 600 ha farm in Poland near the German and Czech borders, marks a significant milestone in the use of drip irrigation for potato farming.

Until 2019 Szymon grew about 150 ha potatoes destined for the processing industry. All potato fields were irrigated with rain guns. “It can also be windy in Poland and dividing water equal over the potato fields was really a problem,” says Louwes.

Faced with the challenges of sandy soil, hot and dry summers, and the inefficiencies of rain gun irrigation, Louwes and Szymon embarked on a journey to revolutionize their farming practices. The introduction of a comprehensive drip irrigation system, despite initial challenges, proved to be a game-changer.

“Drip irrigation and fertigation have not only improved our water management and soil conditions but have fundamentally changed how we approach potato farming,” Louwes remarked.

The system, meticulously planned to ensure water availability across the farm, includes soil sensors, weather stations, and satellite support, highlighting the integration of technology in modern agriculture.

The transition to drip irrigation in potato farming in Poland, while innovative, introduced a steep learning curve for Engel Louwes and his team. The initial challenge was overcoming the traditional reliance on rain gun irrigation, which, despite its broad usage, had significant drawbacks in terms of water distribution efficiency and soil erosion.

The introduction of a comprehensive drip irrigation system marked the beginning of a transformative journey, not just in how water was delivered to the crops, but also in how nutrients were managed, a journey that was both challenging and enlightening.

Navigating the Fertigation Challenge

One of the most significant hurdles encountered was the over-application of fertilizers in the first year of using the drip irrigation system. This issue stemmed from the system’s efficiency in delivering nutrients directly to the plant roots, a stark contrast to the less precise methods used previously.

“The efficiency of the drip system took us by surprise,” Louwes admitted. “We quickly realized that the traditional approach to fertilization didn’t apply here. The system’s precision meant we had to recalibrate our understanding and application of nutrients.”

This realization led to a deeper exploration of fertigation strategies, where fertilizers are applied through the irrigation system. The team embarked on a meticulous process of trial and error, adjusting the quantity and timing of fertilizer application to match the plants’ needs more accurately. The goal was to optimize nutrient uptake without overstimulating foliage growth at the expense of tuber development. This optimization process was not only about reducing waste but also about enhancing the quality and yield of the potato crop.

Achieving Remarkable Successes

The efforts to refine fertigation practices bore fruit, leading to remarkable successes that underscored the potential of drip irrigation in potato farming. One of the most significant outcomes was the dramatic improvement in water and nutrient use efficiency.

By delivering water and nutrients directly to the plant roots, the system minimized losses due to evaporation and runoff, ensuring that the plants received exactly what they needed to thrive. Furthermore, the optimized fertigation regimes led to an increase in yield and an improvement in potato quality.

“The results were beyond our initial expectations,” Louwes remarked. “Not only did we see an increase in yield, but the quality of the potatoes improved as well. This was a clear indication that we were on the right path.”

The successes of the drip irrigation project in Poland have had a ripple effect, inspiring similar initiatives in other parts of the world. The project’s outcomes have attracted the attention of major processors and research institutions, leading to collaborations aimed at further exploring the benefits of drip irrigation and optimized fertigation regimes for potato production.

These collaborations have expanded the knowledge base around sustainable potato cultivation, contributing to the development of best practices that can be adapted to different environmental conditions and farming contexts.

Cross-continental Application: From Poland to India

Louwes’s work has also expanded to India, a country with a burgeoning potato industry. The challenges in India are distinct, given its different climate, day lengths, and cultivation periods. Yet, the principles of efficient water and nutrient management through drip irrigation hold.

“The experience in Poland provides a valuable foundation for our work in India, despite the differences in environmental conditions,” Louwes noted. His goal is to enhance yield and quality in India’s potato production, leveraging the lessons learned from the Polish project to address the unique challenges of Indian potato production.

Looking Ahead

Engel Louwes’s pioneering work in drip irrigation for potato farming stands as a beacon of innovation and sustainability in agriculture. His journey, from the fields of Poland to the diverse landscapes of India, underscores the importance of adapting to changing environmental conditions and the potential of technology to address these challenges.

As the global potato industry looks towards more sustainable practices, the work of Louwes and his collaborators offers a promising path forward, showcasing the profound impact of dedication, innovation, and collaboration in transforming the potato industry for the better.

Author: Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher, Potato News Today


For further information on drip irrigated potatoes or to connect with Engel Louwes in person, he is available via email at or mobile +48 887 629 633.

Cover photo: Engel Louwes

Credit: All pictures courtesy and credit Engel Louwes


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