Louisiana Sweet Potato Harvest Under Way; Crop Spared From Major Storm Damage

Arthur Villordon, Roberts, Gerald, Coolman, Denise  |  9/29/2005 2:50:35 AM

News Release Distributed 09/28/05

The Louisiana sweet potato harvest is under way, and LSU AgCenter experts say the damage from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita appears to be minimal.

Cooler-than-normal weather earlier in the season and drought conditions in the southern part of the state had presented some problems for the crop, but acreage is up for the year.

Dr. Arthur Villordon, interim director of the LSU AgCenter’s Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase, said this year’s sweet potato acreage is about 17,000 acres.

"Last year, we only had about 15,000 acres of sweet potatoes in Louisiana," Villordon said. "The reason was that a lot of acres weren’t planted last year because May and June were so wet, planting was pushed into July and several growers chose not to plant that late.

"Those acres that weren’t planted last year were planted this year, and some producers have even increased their acreage."

Production problems this year were caused primarily by the cool weather that slowed plant bed growth, Villordon said. Drought conditions in South Louisiana also were a problem during the season. But now that two hurricanes have blown through, no more rain is needed, experts say.

"The main issue in Evangeline and St. Landry parishes – before the hurricanes – was drought," said Gerald Roberts, LSU AgCenter county agent and parish chairman in St. Landry Parish. "We were very dry in most areas, which was putting a damper on harvest schedules."

But then the rains came.

"We were worried at first because of the initial forecast of 10 to 20 inches of rain," Roberts said of the predictions about Hurricane Rita. "This would’ve placed a lot of the crop that was ready to be harvested at risk of rotting in the fields."

As it turned out, however, the average rainfall for the area was 5-8 inches, which spared the crop any serious problems, Roberts said.

"Because the ground was already so dry, the rain was absorbed," Roberts said. "Fields that had decent drainage and soils that weren’t too heavy did OK. In fact, rain was just what we needed, because the drought we were having was causing skinning and bruising on potatoes as they were harvested."

Now that the rain has come, Roberts said growers need good weather.

"We don’t need anymore rainfall," he said. "But what we do need is a little northern wind to bring cooler temperatures. That way growers could accelerate their harvest pace."

Insect pressure on this year’s crop has been moderate, Villordon said, adding the insects have been mostly banded cucumber beetles. There have been some worm outbreaks and a few sugarcane beetle problems, and Roberts reported some sporadic white grub worm and weevil problems in spots in some fields.

Harvesting sweet potatoes in Louisiana normally begins in mid-August and can last into early December.

For more information on sweet potatoes and other agricultural crops, go to www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contacts:
Gerald Roberts at (337) 948-0561 or groberts@agcenter.lsu.edu
Arthur Villordon at (318) 435-2155 or avillordon@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer:
A. Denise Coolman at (318) 547-0921 or dcoolman@agcenter.lsu.edu

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