Sweet Potato Producers Pleased With 2007 Crop

Tara Smith, Van Osdell, Mary Ann, Sistrunk, Myrl W., Benedict, Linda F.  |  11/10/2007 2:42:06 AM

The sweet potato digger at the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station at Chase uses a blade that digs up the potatoes and walks the potatoes up a conveyer while shaking off the dirt to a place where six people then put the potatoes in bins. (Photo by Mary Ann Van Osdell) (Click on photo to download larger image.)

News Release Distributed 11/08/07

Sweet potato harvest conditions in Louisiana have been more cooperative in 2007 than in 2006, when late season rains caused several acres to go unharvested.

And though the acreage is down slightly – 15,000 acres compared to 16,000 acres – the yields should more than compensate, according to Tara Smith, LSU AgCenter sweet potato specialist headquartered at the Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase, La.

“Producers in general are pleased with the 2007 crop,” Smith said.

The sweet potato harvest is about 90 percent complete, Smith said. Because of last year’s weather problems, several producers increased harvesting capacity with additional harvesters and hand laborers.

“Barring any unforeseen weather events, producers should wrap up the harvest by Nov. 15,” Smith said.

The production year started off on a positive note. Soil moisture and temperatures were ideal for planting in May and June. As a result, the majority of the crop was planted by June 15.

“We experienced an unusually wet July across the state, with most production areas receiving 10-12 inches of rainfall in July,” Smith said. “The excess moisture contributed to delayed maturity, and harvest began a couple of weeks later than expected because early plantings were slower to size than normal.”

Myrl Sistrunk, LSU AgCenter county agent in West Carroll Parish, which was the leading sweet potato producing parish in 2006 with 6,500 acres yielding on average 300 bushels per acre, said harvest is going well so far in northeast Louisiana.

“The weather has cooperated well for the harvest compared to last year’s weather problems,” he said.

In 2006, sweet potato production contributed more than $100 million to Louisiana’s economy, according to figures in the LSU AgCenter’s Ag Summary.

Smith said insect pests have been a problem in 2007 – especially cucumber beetles.

“Producers in north Louisiana experienced heavier populations of this insect than they had in recent years, and most were scouting and spraying weekly,” Smith said. In addition, several producers in south Louisiana reported significant pockets of white grub damage on a few early planted acres.

“We experienced some significant weed pressure this year because of the July rainfall,” Smith said. “Yellow and purple nutsedge were widespread. In addition, many growers had issues with smell melon, morning glories and pigweed.”

The nutsedge problem is a difficult one because there are no labeled herbicides to control nutsedge after planting, Smith said.

Average total yields per acre are ranging around 300-350 bushels per acre, Smith said, adding, “Some producers have seen yields in certain fields of 400-600 bushels per acre.”

A new variety, Evangeline, which was released by the LSU AgCenter in early 2007 was planted in small plots on several farms this year. In addition, several acres of Evangeline seed were planted at the Sweet Potato Station in 2007, and many Louisiana producers will have an opportunity to evaluate the variety on a limited commercial scale in 2008.

Movement of the early harvested portion of the 2007 crop has been strong.

“Louisiana producers are pleased with the current prices they are receiving and are confident about the quality of the potatoes going into storage,” Smith said.

Several growers have had to rent additional storage facilities for their crop, Sistrunk said.

"Consumers are beginning to understand the health benefits of incorporating sweet potatoes into their diets," Smith said. "We’re seeing a push for a quality stored product, which is why a lot of growers are putting in storage facilities that can hold sweet potatoes for up to a year.”

She said the holiday demand will be satisfied by this year’s crop.

“There are a lot of different ways to use sweet potatoes. They are not just a baked item on the table at Thanksgiving anymore," Smith said.

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Contacts:
Tara Smith at (318) 435-2155 or tsmith@agcenter.lsu.edu
Myrl Sistrunk at (318) 428-3571, or msistrunk@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Mary Ann Van Osdell at (318) 741-7430, or mvanosdell@agcenter.lsu.edu

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