Using Lotus as an Alternative Crop to Generate Farm Income

Final report for FS17-301

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $9,696.00
Projected End Date: 03/14/2020
Grant Recipient: Farmer
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Cheryl Pan
Cheryl's Farm
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project evaluated the feasibility of producing lotus in containers as an alternative to generate farm income. Three experiments were conducted. In 2017, a preliminary experiment was conducted involving three varieties of lotus with a total of 36 plastic containers (18 gallon volume). One seed tuber was planted into each container. For each variety, three containers were fertilized with 10, 20, 40 or 80 g of a granular 10-10-10 fertilizer after at least one standing leaf has grown in each container in June and July. The number of floating leaves, standing leaves, flowers were counted each week. Fertilization more than 40 g per container damaged lotus indicating fertilization at 40 g per container may be adequate. However, damages by deer prevented the collection of tuber production data. In 2018, another experiment was conducted with Space 36 variety which had vigorous growth in the previous year. Twenty-four plastic containers (18-gallon volume) were filled with garden soil to 40 cm deep and rain water collected from a barn roof was added into the containers to cover the soil to a depth of 10 cm below the rim of the containers. One root tuber (variety Space 36) was planted into each container on May 1, 2018. Four levels (2 g, 4 g, 6 g or 8 g) of a water-soluble fertilizer (Miracle-Gro, All purpose plant food, 24-8-16) was applied to each container after at least one standing leaf had sprouted (approximately 45 days after the tubers were planted). The number of floating leaves, standing leaves, flowers, and seed pods were counted each week. Increasing fertilization promoted growth performance and the production of flowers, seeds and tubers. However, the overall yield of tubers was low due to the fact that the Space 36 variety is better suited for seed production then for tuber production. In 2019, an experiment was conducted with the Hubei 5 variety that is selected specifically for tuber production. To assure adequate supply of nutrients for tuber production, we decided to use the 10-10-10 for vegetables from the Southern State Cooperative, that provides other minerals aside from the major nutrient N, P, K. In addition, the granular product is readily available and easy to use. A total of 24 containers were filled with garden soil with or without 30 g of 10-10-10 granular fertilizer mixed in the soil before one seed tuber was planted into each container. After at least one standing leaf per container, three containers each were fertilized with 0.5, 1, 1.5 or 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer was applied in June and July. In containers containing 30 g of 10-10-10 at the beginning, additional fertilization at more than 0.5 tablespoon resulted in the death of the plants, while in containers without the initial loading of fertilizers, increasing the fertilization rate resulted in higher yield of lotus tuber at the end of the experiment. The total yield of tubers per container was low and production of tubers in containers of this size may not be viable economically. However, better yield of edible tubers seem to be possible with larger containers and shallow ponds.

Results from these experiments were used for presentations at the Third Thursday Workshop at Kentucky State University, the Annual meeting of Kentucky Academy of Science, and the 1890 Association of Research Directors. A Lotus Day was held in 2018 and 2019 for potential growers to visit my farm and participants were able to taste some of the lotus products and ask questions about lotus production. Two additional tours were also provided for growers to learn about growing lotus. Displays and information sheets were provided at the Third Thursday workshops organized by Kentucky State University. Project director made a trip to the Ten Mile Creek Nursery in Alabama to learn about different lotus varieties and culturing practices.

In 2017, an experiment was conducted involving 3 varieties of lotus and 4 levels of fertilization rate to produce lotus in 18 gallon plastic containers. This initial experiment was adversely affected by deer interruption. A presentation was made about the potential of growing lotus in Kentucky at the Third Thursday Day at Kentucky State University. 

In 2018, an experiment was conducted with Space 36 lotus in 18 gallon containers with water soluble fertilizer at 4 fertilization rates. A Lotus Field Day was held on the farm to show farmers and others how lotus could be produced in containers and small ponds. The project director visited Auburn University researchers and a lotus producer in Alabama to learn about different culturing techniques and varieties of lotus. Hubei 5, a variety selected for tuber production was introduced and successfully grown.

Lotus seed pods were test marketed through an Asian grocery store, indicating there is strong consumer interest in purchasing fresh seed pods ($2/each). Even though the total yield of tubers was not enough for test marketing this time, there have been numerous inquiries about the availability of locally grown lotus tubers from local stores and individual consumers indicating a potential market exists for lotus tubers in Kentucky.

 

Project Objectives:

The goal of this project was to evaluate the feasibility of producing lotus in containers as an alternative to generate farm income in Kentucky. The objective was to evaluate the effect of fertilization rate on lotus production in containers. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Changzheng Wang (Researcher)
  • Dr. Marion Simon (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:

Three experiments were conducted. In 2017, a preliminary experiment was conducted involving three varieties of lotus with a total of 36 plastic containers (18 gallon volume). One seed tuber was planted into each container. For each variety, three containers were fertilized with 10, 20, 40 or 80 g of a granular 10-10-10 fertilizer after at least one standing leaf has grown in each container. The number of floating leaves, standing leaves, flowers were counted each week.  In 2018, another experiment was conducted with Space 36 variety which had vigorous growth in the previous year. Twenty-four plastic containers (18-gallon volume) were filled with garden soil to 40 cm deep and rain water collected from a barn roof was added into the containers to cover the soil to a depth of 10 cm below the rim of the containers. One root tuber (variety Space 36) was planted into each container on May 1, 2018. Four levels (2 g, 4 g, 6 g or 8 g) of a water-soluble fertilizer (Miracle-Gro, All purpose plant food, 24-8-16) was applied to each container after at least one standing leaf had sprouted (approximately 45 days after the tubers were planted). The number of floating leaves, standing leaves, flowers, and seed pods were counted each week. Realizing the Space 36 variety is better suited for seed production, we purchased the Hubei 5 variety that is selected for tuber production and used that variety for the 2019 experiment. To assure adequate supply of nutrients for tuber production, we decided to use the 10-10-10 for vegetables from the Southern State Cooperative, that provides other minerals aside from the major nutrient N, P, K. In addition, the granular product is readily available and easy to use. A total of 24 containers were filled with garden soil with or without 30 g of 10-10-10 granular fertilizer mixed in the soil before one seed tuber was planted into each container. After at least one standing leaf per container, three containers each were fertilized with 0.5, 1, 1.5 or 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer was applied in June and July. In containers containing 30 g of 10-10-10 at the beginning, additional fertilization at more than 0.5 tablespoon resulted in the death of the plants, while in containers without the initial loading of fertilizers, increasing the fertilization rate resulted in high yield of lotus tuber at the end of the experiment. 

Research results and discussion:

In experiment 1, two of the varieties grew more standing leaves than the other variety. Increasing fertilization rate up to 40 g per container increased the number of standing leaves but fertilization at 80 g per container damaged the plants resulting lower number of standing leaves. During the later part of the experiment, deer grazed the tender leaves of the lotus so no data were collected on the production of lotus tuber. These results demonstrated that fences are needed to prevent damages of lotus plants by wild animals such as deer. Different varieties of lotus may respond to production conditions.

In experiment 2, the number of floating leaves, standing leaves, the yield of seeds and edible tubers increased with increasing fertilization rate. Tuber production was also increased with higher fertilization rate. However, the total yield of tubers was less than a pound. These results indicate that water fertilizer could be used for lotus production and increasing fertilization from 2 g/container up to 8 g/container two times during the growing season increased the number of floating leaves, standing leaves, flowers and seeds produced. and the yield of seeds and edible tubers. However, the overall tuber production was low (less than 500 g/container). This was due to the factor that the Space 36 variety is better suited for the production of flowers and seeds.

In experiment 3, in containers with 30 g of 10-10-10 mixed into the soil at the beginning, the number of floating leaves, standing leaves, yield of edible tubers were low if more than 0.5 tablespoon of 10-10-10 were applied during the growing season. The lotus yield was just as good for containers with initial loading of 30 g fertilizer but with only 0.5 tablespoon of additional fertilizer application in June and July. In containers without 30 g of fertilizer mixed into the soil at the beginning, application of increasing amount of fertilizers during the growing season significantly increased the number of leaves and total yield of lotus tuber at the end of the experiment.  The results indicate that it is possible to provide most of the nutrients needed for the lotus by adding fertilizers to the soil before lotus was planted. This is consistent with Chinese literature suggesting majority of the nutrients for lotus should be provided in the soil at the beginning. This project provided data to support that container production of lotus tubers is possible and the harvest of tubers from the containers is easy and can be timed as needed. However, the overall production of tubers in 18 gallon containers was still relatively low and not economically feasible. During the same period, containers with diameters of 150 cm or larger shallow pond, good yield of edible lotus tubers were observed, suggesting larger containers and shallow ponds may be more suitable for production of lotus tubers because lotus varieties selected for tuber production are usually large plants that require large space to grow. 

 

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

65 Consultations
2 On-farm demonstrations
2 Tours
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

80 Farmers
90 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Displays and information about lotus production in Kentucky were presented at the Third Thursday workshops at Kentucky State University in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Scientific presentations based on the experiment data were made at the Third Thurday workshop, the Annual meeting of Kentucky Academy of Science, and the 1890 Association of Research Directors Symposium, Jacksonville, FL, 2019.

Learning Outcomes

20 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • Possibility of setting up lotus production on particular farm locations

  • Interested in learning more about growing lotus

  • Lotus can be grown in containers

  • Lotus tubers, seeds and leaves can all be used for food purposes

  • Lotus plants can be grown for ornamental as well as food purposes

  • Kentucky climate is suitable for lotus production.

  • There is growing consumer interest in lotus products in Kentucky.

Project Outcomes

4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This project has proved that lotus can be produced in Kentucky climate to meet growing needs of consumers for lotus products. Lotus varieties selected for tuber or seeds or flower production should be used for the producer's production focus. Because of the size of lotus plants, containers with diameters more than 19 in or shallow ponds are needed to provide the space for the plant to grow. This project used rain water collected from a barn roof to provide the needed water. It is a sustainable practice that other farmers can adopt. Currently lotus tubers can be marketed at $2.5 per lb or more and there is a lack of domestic supply. Growing lotus can provide a source of income for farmers who are searching for alternatives to tobacco production. The initial investiment to start lotus production is relative low compared with production of vegetables or fish.

Recommendations:

Future studies should focus on lotus production in shallow ponds, which will provide the space for lotus to grow and can be easily harvested to meet market needs. Potential production can be as high as 2500 kg per acre, generating up to a value of $75,000 per acre.  

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.