James M. Cannon, Coolman, Denise | 4/26/2005 8:28:32 PM
CHASE – As farmers work to complete harvesting this year’s sweet potato crop in Louisiana, an LSU AgCenter expert predicts overall production for 2004 will be down significantly because of a mixture of excessive rains and drought conditions.
Dr. Mike Cannon of the LSU AgCenter’s Sweet Potato Research Station near Chase said he expects 2004 production to be about 65 percent to 70 percent of the normal crop.
"This is because we had a lot of rain in May and June, and then we had drought conditions that hit the southern part of the state after the rains stopped in June," Cannon said. "The excessive rain delayed planting and resulted in fewer acres being planted this year."
Officials estimate that about 14,000 acres of sweet potatoes were planted in Louisiana this year. That’s down substantially from the 2003 acreage, which was logged at more than 19,000 acres, according to the LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana Summary: Agriculture and Natural Resources. Since 2003’s acreage was off by more than 1,700 acres from 2002, this year’s acreage is only about two-thirds of what was planted just two years ago.
Most of the 2004 crop was planted in July, which is not the optimum time to plant sweet potatoes, according to the experts, who say planting of sweet potatoes generally begins in late April or early May. Harvesting in Louisiana normally begins in mid-August and can last into early December.
"Late plantings usually result in lower yields," Cannon said. "The May and June rains had a dramatic effect on yield and quality. Some areas of the state received as much as 20 inches or more of rain. This tends to lower yield and quality."
Rain also causes the soil to become compacted, and that means the shape of the sweet potatoes is not as smooth – which reduces their grade.
The northeastern section of the state, where the LSU AgCenter’s Sweet Potato Research Station is located, received excessive rainfall in May and June but didn’t suffer from drought as South Louisiana did. Because of this, the yield and quality of sweet potatoes in Northeast Louisiana are somewhat better than those in South Louisiana.
"A large percentage of growers in Northeast Louisiana have the ability to irrigate, and most did during the later part of the growing season," Cannon said. "Insect pressure seemed to be considerably less than normal, which may have resulted in a few dollars being saved in production costs."
Cannon also said a new insecticide and three new herbicides were allowed for emergency use this year, and one of those – Valor – is likely to receive general approval for use with sweet potatoes before the 2005 growing season.
"Valor performed quite well when used in combination with the Command herbicide, – the only labeled pre-emergence herbicide for sweet potatoes," Cannon said. "Valor gave good control of pigweeds, morning glory and several other broadleaf weeds. It also seems to have some activity in controlling yellow nutsedge and rice flatsedge."
As for the price Louisiana growers can expect to receive for their sweet potatoes, Cannon said it will probably be low this year.
"North Carolina had a bumper sweet potato crop," he said. "When they have a large crop, the prices received by Louisiana shippers and growers decrease."
Cannon said movement of this year’s crop has been brisk for Thanksgiving – with at least one shipper packing 24 hours a day.
"Because of fewer acres and a shorter than normal crop in Louisiana, most Louisiana shippers will likely be finished shipping this season’s crop by Easter 2005," Cannon said. "There are, however, a few shippers who will likely have sweet potatoes to ship through next summer."
Having the ability to ship potatoes all year is important for brokers to be able to maintain their markets, the LSU AgCenter expert pointed out.
The Beauregard sweet potato variety is the variety grown most in Louisiana. This variety, which was developed through research at the LSU AgCenter, also is grown across most of the nation’s sweet potato producing areas – accounting for about 70 percent of the sweet potato acreage grown in the United States.
For more information on this and other agriculture-related issues, as well as information on finances, health and other issues, go to www.lsuagcenter.com.