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Revista mexicana de ciencias agrícolas

versión impresa ISSN 2007-0934

Rev. Mex. Cienc. Agríc vol.7 no.5 Texcoco jun./ago. 2016



NPK levels for the production of potato minitubers in greenhouse in the Toluca Valley

Román Flores-López1  § 

Erasto Sotelo-Ruiz1 

Oswaldo Rubio-Cobarrubias1 

Amanda Álvarez-Gonzalez1 

Maricela Marín-Casimiro1 

1Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias. km. 4.5 Carretera Toluca-Zitácuaro, Vialidad Adolfo López Mateos, Colonia San José Barbabosa; Zinacantepec, Estado de México. C. P. 51350. Tel: (722)278-43-31. (;;;


The nutrition potato (Solanum tuberosum) in greenhouses in Mexico is done by applying solid formulations of NPK, foliar applications and the use of non-specific hydroponic nutrient solutions; therefore, yields are low, varied and inconsistent. The objectives of this research were to: 1) determine the concentrations of NPK suitable for the production of potato clone 020342.1 under hydroponics conditions; and 2) assess the yields of minitubers under greenhouse conditions. The experiment was conducted in the experimental greenhouses in Campo Toluca Zinacantepec, State of Mexico in 2012. The substrate used was perlite; San Cristobal design was used, with four levels of NPK respectively and twelve treatments; the variables were chlorophyll, leaf area index (IAF), fresh weight, number and diameter of minitubers. Treatments with higher chlorophyll content during the crop cycle were: T12 and T10 with 144 and 158 µg g-1 respectively; height, fresh weight and number of tubers significant differences, where the best treatments were the T10, T12, T8 and T6. For the fresh weight of tuber, they highlighted the T6 and T10, with 230 and 232 g respectively. For the total number of tubers, protrude T8 with 18.6 tubers per plant, T12 with 18.2, T10 to 18.1 and T6 to 16.8. In conclusion, the highest concentrations of 150N and 300K and increased tuber yield minituber clone 020342.1 potato hydroponics.

Keywords: Solanum tuberosum; hydroponics; nutrition


La nutrición de la papa (Solanum tuberosum) en invernadero en México se hace mediante aplicación de fórmulas sólidas de NPK, aplicaciones foliares y el uso de soluciones nutritivas hidropónicas no específicas; por lo tanto, los rendimientos son bajos, muy variados e inconsistentes. Los objetivos de esta investigación fueron: 1) determinar las concentraciones de NPK adecuadas para la producción del clon 020342.1 de papa bajo condiciones de hidroponía; y 2) evaluar los rendimientos de minitubérculos bajo condiciones de invernadero. El experimento se realizó en los invernaderos del Campo experimental Toluca en Zinacantepec, Estado de México en el año 2012. El sustrato utilizado fue perlita; se empleó el diseño San Cristóbal, con cuatro niveles de NPK respectivamente y doce tratamientos; las variables evaluadas fueron clorofila, índice de área foliar (IAF), peso fresco, número y diámetro de minitubérculos. Los tratamientos con mayor contenido de clorofila durante el ciclo del cultivo fueron: T12 y T10 con 144 y 158 µg g-1 respectivamente; la altura, peso fresco y número de tubérculos presentan diferencias significativas, donde los mejores tratamientos fueron el T10, T12, T8 y T6. Para el peso fresco de tubérculo, destacaron el T6 y T10, con 230 y 232 g respectivamente. Para el número de tubérculos totales, sobresalen el T8 con 18.6 tubérculos por planta, T12 con 18.2, T10 con 18.1 y T6 con 16.8. En conclusión, las concentraciones mayores de 150N y 300K aumentaron la tuberización y rendimiento de minitubérculo del clon 020342.1 de papa en hidroponía.

Palabras clave: Solanum tuberosum; hidroponía; nutrición


The potato requires large amounts of nutrients, due to their need to fill tuber. When the goal is to improve the yield and quality of potato, the amount should be given importance, the type of nutrient and its application programming (Coraspe et al., 2009).

The production of seed potatoes in greenhouses in Mexico within the formal system of seed production, NOM041-FITO-2002 SENASICA (2014), is made by using organic substrates (coconut fiber, rice hulls and peat) and inorganic (tezontle, perlite, sand and gravel) and mixtures thereof. Fertilization in some cases is a solid foundation mixed with the substrate and fertigation using complete formulations of NPK and Ca, which is complemented by foliar applications of nutrients according to the stage of crop development; in some cases, are used general hydroponic nutrient solutions as Steiner (1961). One of the great problems of seed production tuber greenhouse is the poor stability of the results, which coupled with high densities used, 45 to 100 plants m2, reduces the yield per plant, so it is important to determine the NPK fertilizer levels in national varieties under local conditions (Flores et al., 2009).

The performance is influenced by genotype, environmental conditions, intercepted radiation, physiological state of tubers employees or in vitro plants, planting density and nutrition is one of the most important factors for high performance and improve quality physical and health of tubers, so that nutrients should be applied in the time demanded by the plant and suitable for growing concentrations. Of the essential elements for plants, nitrogen (N) is a structural component of nucleic acids, amino acids and proteins; potassium (K) is required for activation of certain enzymes, carbohydrate translocation and regulation of osmosis; while phosphorus (P) is involved in energy processes in nucleic acids, phosphorus sugars, alcohols and lipids.

The process tuberisation is influenced by the nutritional balance (Struik and Wiersema, 1999), photoperiod (Martínez et al., 2001), total radiation, radiation intercepted by the plant, CO2, temperature, genotype and nutrition (Struik and Wiersema, 1999).

The nutrition is critical in the development and performance of the potato; nitrogen and potassium are the elements found in potatoes in large quantities; high concentrations of nitrogen lengthen the growing season and delay the onset of tuber; also they reduce tuber yield and quality; while low concentrations act contrary (Giletto et al., 2003). Management of nitrogen fertilization is important for regulating the growth and development of potato cultivation as well as to minimize the risks of contamination by nitrites (Zebarth and Rosen, 2007). The N content of 60 to 100 days of development of the potato, the tuber in relation to total plant nitrogen varies from 81 to 89% in the varieties Hilite Russet and Russet Burbank (Alva et al., 2002).

In field applications, 200 kg ha-1 of this element increases the amount of foliage and remains active after 70 days of crop development (Da Silva, 2000) constant. Giorgetta et al. (1993) mention that the phosphorus is important in the establishment of the plant and generating stolons; glasshouse tested concentration of 72 mg L-1 of P, applied as triple superphosphate, where they managed to obtain 385 minitubers per m2, of which 53% weighed between 5 and 40 g. In addition, Chapman et al. (1992); Rozo and Ñústez (2011) evaluated three levels of phosphorus (50, 100 and 150 kg ha-1) as P2O5 results in equal performance with each other and higher than the control level of zero kg ha-1.

With respect to potassium Rozo and Ñústez (2011) mention that potassium deficiency can result in decreased performance and size of tubers. Mc Dole et al. (1978) state that some quality factors such as dry matter, specific gravity, sugar content, flesh color and the phenomenon of hollow heart are affected by potassium fertilization.

Coraspe et al. (2009) conclude that the sequence of maximum accumulation of macronutrients in leaf and root vegetables in hydroponics in the variety Atlantic was K>N>S>Ca>P>Mg. However, no difference in nitrogen requirement depending on genotype; in this regard, Love et al. (2005) evaluated the requirements of N in three genotypes: Bannock Russet, Gem Russet and Russet Summit, where they found they had different nitrogen requirement compared to Russet Burbank.

Different studies on potato hydroponics in greenhouses have been made, where the plant will provide all the nutritional requirements you need. Boersig et al. (1988) compared the NFT and ARM systems for the production of mini-tubers. Simko (1991) differentiated the process of in vitro and in hydroponics tuberisation. Meanwhile, Chil et al. (2001) evaluated the effect of the temperature of the nutrient solution for the production of minitubers, and found that their number was increased to 15 °C than at temperatures higher than 20, 25 and 30 °C; Additional foliar concentration of nutrients such as N, K, Ca and Mg is increased at high temperatures; meanwhile, phosphorus is not affected.

Novella et al. (2008) found that solutions 1 ds m-1 can be used for the production of seed tubers in a greenhouse, and that the increase in the electrical conductivity to 5.8 ds m-1 does not affect the number of minitubers indoor hydroponic systems; also they mention that originated from tubers plants produce fresh weight, dry matter and higher than those arising IAF from plants in vitro. On the other hand, Simko (1991) evaluated mixtures of substrates and two nutrient solutions for hydroponic cultivation of potatoes. Meanwhile, Muro et al. (1997) studied the influence of the nutrient solution substrates (peat and sand) and Flores et al. (2009) planting density on yield of seed potatoes, and mentioned that the higher the density decreases the number of tubers per plant. Also, Mc Collon (1978) mentions that a nutritional imbalance with high concentrations of phosphorus and low zinc in the nutrient solution produces high tuber yield.

Therefore, the objectives of this research were to: 1) determine the concentrations of NPK suitable for the production of potato clone 020342.1 under hydroponics conditions; and 2) assess the yields of minitubers under greenhouse conditions.

Materials and methods

Two experiments were established of september to december 2012 in a greenhouse in Zinacantepec, Mexico. The location is 19° 17’ 21” north latitude and 99° 42’ 49” west longitude and a height of 2 640 msnm (García, 2004; INEGI, 2008). The average temperature of experiment 1 was 15.5 °C and Experiment 2 of 14.3 °C with highs of 36 and lows of -0.9 and -1.5 °C respectively.

The 1.8 L pots were used volume, horticultural grade vermiculite from 1 to 4 mm in diameter. The 020342.1 clone industry was used with quality and tolerance to internal staining caused by tuber syndrome purple potato tip; minitubers selected were from 12 to 15 mm in diameter with a single outbreak and virus-free.

Irrigation was done with the use of droppers 8 L h-1 with four outputs distributor. They programmed with a programmer Hunter PRO-C model, four irrigations the first two weeks, followed by five the next four weeks, and seven the last six weeks, depending on the stage of crop development; spending was 33 ml per pot in each irrigation for a maximum flow of 231 ml per pot.

The experimental design was randomized complete block with three replicates for NPK and four levels for each factor, which gives a total of twelve treatments (Martínez, 1996). Concentrations in mg L-1 were 100, 150, 200 and 250 of nitrogen; 30, 80, 130 and 180 for phosphorus; and 250, 300, 350 and 400 of potassium. The resulting 12 treatments have the following combinations of NPK: T1 (100-30-250); T2 (200-30-250); T3 (100-130-250); T4 (200-130-250); T5 (100-30-350); T6

(200-30-350); T7 (100-130-350); T8 (200-130-350); T9 (15080-300); T10 (250-80-300); T11 (150-180-300) and T12 (15080-400). For this purpose 12 supplemented nutrient solutions Mg 45 mg L-1, 200 mg L-1 Ca, 3 Fe-EDTA, 0.5 Zn, 0.5 Cu, 0.5 B. The pH was adjusted to 6.0 and conductivity of various 2 were 2.6 ds.m-1. The results of the experiment were analyzed using the statistical package SAS version 9.0 (SAS, 2002).

Furthermore, the concentration of chlorophyll was evaluated, which was measured by the method of Lichtenthaler and Wellburn (1983); then Spad readings were taken and the value was substituted in the regression equation. Other variables were: IAF, which took an 80 Accupar ceptometro, plant height, number, fresh weight and diameter of tubers. For all variables was made corresponding analysis of variance and comparison of means (SAS, 2002).

Results and discussion

Chlorophyll content

The chlorophyll content during the crop cycle (Table 1) is presented for six dates in days after emergence (DAE); chlorophyll in µg ml-1 fresh weight presents the lowest readings in treatments with amounts less than 100 mg L-1 of N, while plants with higher readings correspond to those with the treatments of K greater than 350 mg L-1 and concentrations of N greater than 150 mg L-1.

Table 1 Contents of chlorophyll (µg ml-¹) during the cycle in clone 020342.1 NPK experiment in hydroponics. Average of two experiments. 

Tratamiento Clorofila (µg*ml-1)
48 DDE 55 DDE 61 DDE 68 DDE 76 DDE 82 DDE
1. 100N-30P-250K 138.87 ab 144.1 ed 141.55 cd 140.24 bc 140.56 ef 140.56 bc
2. 200N-30P-250K 139.84 ab 151.76 ab 151.29 ab 151 a 148.72 bc 148.72 abc
3. 100N-130P-250K 133.05 b 144.56 cde 147.58 bc 140 c 144.26 edf 144.26 c
4. 200N-130P-250K 129.62 b 130.12 f 136.36 d 146.76 ab 144.07 edf 144.07 bc
5. 100N-30P-350K 136.81 b 139.23 e 140.03 d 139.38 c 139.09 ef 139.09 abc
6. 200N-30P-350K 160.85 a 150.91 abc 153.35 ab 153.04 a 145.47 cdf 145.47 abc
7. 100N-130P-350K 131.61 b 138.11 e 137.49 d 139.89 c 137.77 f 137.77 bc
8. 200N-130P-350K 142.85 ab 150.43 abcd 152.42 ab 147.26 a 146.16 cde 146.16 abc
9. 150N-80P-300K 142.12 ab 146.35 bcd 154.85 a 149.47 a 154.79 ab 154.79 a
10. 250N-80P-300K 144.88 ab 151.69 ab 155.75 a 151.22 a 151.97 ab 151.97 ab
11. 150N-180P-300K 142.38 ab 150.09 abcd 152.45 ab 147.09 a 148.62 bcd 148.62 abc
12. 150N-80P-400K 145.73 ab 154.74 a 155.16 a 151.11 a 158.21 a 158.21 a

DDE= días después de emergencia. Tratamientos con las mismas letras, Tukey p< 0.05.

The ANOVA results showed that at least one treatment was different. At 48 DDE, treatments with lower chlorophyll concentrations were T4, T7, T3 and T5 low N in the solution, except T4. Treatment with higher content of chlorophyll was the T6. If you observe the six sampling dates, T2, T6, T8 and T12 treatments showed generally high values in all sampling dates. In the comparison test of Tukey, treatments T12, T10, T9, T8 and T6 showed higher values; and lower chlorophyll content were T1, T3 and T7.

The best results for chlorophyll were those with high concentrations of K and N. This is consistent with the findings of Zebarth and Rosen (2007) which mention that high concentrations of nitrogen favors the vegetative development of the crop so that the management of fertilization nitrogenous regulates the growth and development of potato cultivation; on the other hand, some interaction between N and K is observed, since in some treatments even when they were 150 mg L-1 of nitrogen but high concentrations of potassium, the amount of chlorophyll was higher than in treatments with the two elements below 150 mg L-1 and 300 mg L-1 respectively.

Foliar area index

In all treatments, the IAF increased in the first samples (31 and 41 DDE); maximum growth occurred in the treatment T12 with 1.0 of IAF, and at 41 DDE the IAF a considerable increase in the T6 and T12 treatments was reached; after october 26, this treatment began to decline so that for the last date (november 19), the average was 3.71. Something similar happened in treatments T8, T9 and T11 in the last sampling date IAF decreased to 3.9, 3.4 and 3.5, respectively. Unlike the above, T1, T2, T3, T4, T5 and T6 treatments they showed increased IAF through sampling dates, without tending to decrease as in the case of T12 (Figure 1). Treatments with lower content of N showed high IAF values to the third sampling date (October, 20), whereas treatment with high concentrations of N was the T10; from second date presented values IAF 3.0, which also occurred with T6, T11 and T12 treatments 200, 150 and 150 mg L-1 of nitrogen. Another important factor influencing performance are the high values of the IAF and the duration thereof; this is observed for treatment T6 and T12 showed consistency in increasing IAF during the cycle of potato clone 020342.1 and had higher performance in number and biomass of tubers.

Average experiments 1 and 2.

Figure 1 Foliar area index of the clone 020342.1 at 31, 41, 46, 52, 64 and 75 DDE experiment NPK in hydroponics.  

Plant height

In relation to plant height, analysis of variance indicated that there were significant differences between treatments in both experiments, and the average of these (Figure 2). The treatments presented plants were taller T10 an average of 47 cm, with 43 cm T8, high in N; and 45 cm to T11, T9 with 42 and T12 with 42 cm; all were statistically different with T1, T2, T3, T4, T5 and T7 treatments. Moreover, interaction between N and K, and N and P was presented; Additional treatments showed different responses according to the dose of K applied in the nutrient solution.

Treatments with the same letter are the same, Tukey p< 0.05.

Figure 2 Average height of plants NPK experiment in clone 020342.1 in hydroponics. 

Performance minitubers

The yields of fresh weight of tuber clone 02342.1 are statistically different in all treatments (Table 2). The average yield of the experiment ranges from 167.27 to 216.95 g; treatments with lower yields are T7 with 167.27 g, T4 and T1 with 172.88 with 174.24 g; treatment with the lowest fresh weight has the lowest concentration of N, which demonstrates the importance of P and N in the potato tuber. Treatments with the highest yields were T3 with 202.28 g, the T10 with 216.69 and 216.95 g with T6. As can be seen, the best treatments contain high concentration of nitrogen (200 and 250 mg L-1) and potassium concentrations (300 and 350 mg L-1); while the T3 treatment has lower content of nitrogen and potassium, but with higher content of phosphorus; T2 contains high concentration of nitrogen and low phosphorus, which also has good production in fresh weight. This indicates that there is a balance between the three main elements NPK to achieve high yields (greater than 198 g).

Table 2 Fresh weight of tubers and comparison of means from clone 020342.1 NPK experiment in hydroponics. 

Tratamiento Media de peso fresco de tubérculo (g)
1. 100N-30P-250K 174.24 def
2. 200N-30P-250K 198.47 abc
3. 100N-130P-250K 202.28 ab
4. 200N-130P-250K 172.88 ef
5. 100N-30P-350K 179.31 cdef
6. 200N-30P-350K 216.95 a
7. 100N-130P-350K 167.27 f
8. 200N-130P-250K 193.25 bcd
9. 150N-80P-300K 185.66 cbdef
10. 250N-80P-300K 216.69 a
11. 150N-180P-300K 186.92 bcde
12. 150N-80P-400K 191.48 bcde

Tratamientos con la misma letra son iguales, Tukey p< 0.05.

The results agree with those mentioned Ayalew and Beyene (2011) who with 280 kg ha of K has increased performance in field 10 ton more compared with treatment of 200 kg ha potassium. In addition, Muro et al. (1997); Simko (1991) evaluated the influence of two nutrient solutions for hydroponics potato, finding tuber very good yields with high concentrations of this element. Mc Collon (1978) mentions that high concentration of phosphorus and low zinc in the nutrient solution gives higher yields twice to commercial. Finally, Flores et al. (2009) studied planting density on yield of seed potatoes and found that the higher the density decreases the number of tubers per plant.

In the Figure 3 shows more clearly the difference between treatments. However, the results are not consistent with respect to the P content in the solution, so we can say that the P concentrations evaluated was not final in the production of tuber fresh weight; These results agree with those reported by Muro et al. (1997), who found that increasing the concentration of phosphorus in nutrient solutions employed, not performance increases.

Treatments with the same letter are the same, Tukey p< 0.05.

Figure 3 Comparison of tubers fresh weight (g) produced in greenhouses clone 020342.1 for NPK experiment in hydroponics.  

As it regards the total number of tubers is observed (Figure 4) that there is difference between treatments. Treatments increased production of mini-tubers per plant were the T8 with 18.6 tubers, with T12 with 18.2, T10 with 18.1 and T6 with 16.8. It is noted that the N influenced the number of tubers in three of the four solutions of which concentration was higher than the 200 mg L-1; likewise, treatment with the highest number of minitubers was presenting 130 mg L-1 of P. This results agree with those reported by Alva et al. (2002); Giorgetta et al. (1993), who mentioned that N is very important for potato yield, and P is important in the generation of stolons and performance.

Treatments with the same letter are the same, Tukey p< 0.05.

Figure 4 Total number of tubers produced in the greenhouse by clone 020342.1 for NPK experiment in hydroponics. 

On the other hand, treatments with fewer tubers were T4 with 10.5, T5 with 11.7, T7 with 13 and T1 with 12.2. The same behavior for larger tubers of 15mm diameter was observed (Table 3).

Table 3 Number of tubers >15 mm gases produced by clone 020342.1 on NPK experiment in hydroponics. 

Tratamiento Media
T>15 mm TT
1. 100N-30P-250K 9.47 ef 11.22 g
2. 200N-30P-250K 11.44 cd 13.08 de
3. 100N-130P-250K 9.78 ef 11.52 fg
4. 200N-130P-250K 8.92 f 10.59 g
5. 100N-30P-350K 10.02 def 11.77 gf
6. 200N-30P-350K 13.74 ab 16.81 bc
7. 100N-130P-350K 10.54 ed 13.07 ef
8. 200N-130P-350K 14.52 a 18.68 a
9. 150N-80P-300K 11.36 cd 13.77 de
10. 250N-80P-300K 14.30 a 18.13 ab
11. 150N-180P-300K 12.47 bc 15.30 cd
12. 150N-80P-400K 14.21 a 18.27 ab

T>15 mm = tubérculos mayores de 15 mm de diámetro; TT = tubérculos totales. Tratamientos con la misma letra son iguales, Tukey p< 0.05.

Here treatments highlighted T8, T10, T12 and T6, which were statistically equal to 14.52, 14.3, 14.21 and 13.7 minitubers respectively. When comparing treatments T8 and T6, we can see the positive influence of phosphorus in the production of minitubers, for while the T6 contains only 30 mg L-1, treatment T8 contains 130 mg L-1.

In general, treatments with higher potassium content, regardless of the concentration of phosphorus, had a higher number of minitubers, both total and over 15 mm in diameter (Table 4).

Table 4 Distribution of diameters (%) of minitubers in clone 020342.1 for NPK experiment in hydroponics. 

Tratamientos Diámetro
40 mm 30 mm 25 mm 20 mm 18 mm 15 mm >15 mm
1. 100N-30P-250K 1.8 21.6 23.3 22.1 8.1 7.6 15.6
2. 200N-30P-250K 3.3 24.5 22.4 18.7 7.3 6.6 17.2
3. 100N-130P-250K 1.7 25.7 21.4 18.6 9.3 7.9 15.4
4. 200N-130P-250K 3.7 21.3 23.4 19.3 9.1 7.4 15.7
5. 100N-30P-350K 0.9 22.1 23.6 20.5 9.6 8.4 14.9
6. 200N-30P-350K 0.8 16.4 21 24 11.2 8.5 18.3
7. 100N-130P-350K 0 14.6 21.8 23.8 11.1 9.4 19.4
8. 200N-130P-350K 0 12.6 19.4 23.2 12.7 9.9 22.3
9. 150N-80P-300K 0.1 14.5 22.4 25.8 11.7 7.8 17.8
10. 250N-80P-300K 0.4 14.5 18.7 21.9 12.7 10.5 21.3
11. 150N-180P-300K 0.2 14 20.4 24.7 12.6 9.6 18.5
12. 150N-80P-400K 0 11.4 18.7 24.3 12.5 10.9 22.2

This is consistent with what was found by Chapman et al. (1992) and Singh and Lai (2012) who mentioned that the higher the concentration of K, has increased crop yield, both in field and greenhouse. As you can also see that in treatments with lower concentration of nitrogen they had fewer minitubers; however, production increased when used 200 to 250 mg L-1 of this element is presented. In addition, these results are consistent with that found by Novella et al. (2008); Muller et al. (2007), who report that the electrical conductivity of the nutritive solution 1 to 5.8 ds m-1 does not affect the number and performance of minitubers. It can also be seen in Table 4 that the distribution of the diameters of minitubers per treatment, is different; so, T2 and T4 treatment with 200 mg L-1 of nitrogen and 250 mg L-1 of K, regardless of the concentration of P, showed the highest number of minitubers over 40 mm in diameter, followed by T1 and T3 with lower nitrogen content.

Also, treatments 1 to 5, for the diameter of 30 mm, showed the highest values; i.e. tubers had fewer but larger diameter otherwise treatments with T8, T10 and T12. The minitubers larger amount of less than 15 mm, where the percentage was higher than 20% diameter was presented; It highlights the T12 (150N-80P-400K) treatment with 22%. In general, the experiment showed the highest production of minitubers for diameters of 20 and 25 mm. The opposite turned out to treatments T1 to T5, which increased production corresponded to the diameters of 25 and 30 mm.


Under greenhouse conditions, concentrations above 200 mg L-1 of N, phosphorus 130 and 250 mg L-1 of K favor the production of potato minitubers in hydroponics in perlite.

The clone 020342.1 studied, with these concentrations of NPK in the nutrient solution, showed higher performance in number of minitubers, number of tubers smaller diameter, IAF, chlorophyll content, plant height (47 cm) and greater performance.

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Received: April 2016; Accepted: June 2016

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