Louisiana sweet potato producers harvested an average to slightly above average crop in 2007, although acreage was slightly down from that of 2006 with 14,254 harvested acres for 2007. Total production in 2007 was 5.5 million bushels compared to 4.5 million the previous year. The average price received for the 2007 crop was $15.50-16.50 for a 40-pound box. Total gross farm value for sweet potatoes was $65 million with $50.9 million from fresh sales and $14.1 million from canning sweet potatoes.
The production year started off on a positive note. Soil moisture and temperatures were ideal for planting in May and June, and, as a result, the majority of the crop was planted by mid-June. Producers experienced an unusually wet July across the state, with most production areas receiving 10-12 inches of rainfall. Some producers in northern production areas received in excess of 20 inches of rainfall in July. The excess moisture contributed to delayed maturity, and harvest operations began a couple of weeks later than expected because early plantings were slower to size than normal.
Despite the initial delay, the 2007 crop was harvested under good conditions, unlike 2006, when a large percentage of the crop was not harvested because of adverse weather conditions in October and November. Acreage in 2007 was down compared to 2006, but yield and quality of the crop were above-average and partially offset the reduction in acreage. Initial movement and price of the 2007 crop were strong.
The number of sweet potato producers has declined significantly in recent years. There were 159 producers in 2003, compared to 104 in 2007. Sweet potato acreage is expected to remain at current levels with the potential for a slight increase in 2008. The demand for sweet potatoes is increasing in domestic and foreign markets. Long-term expectations are for Louisiana producers to increase their acreage to satisfy the increasing demands of more health-conscious consumers and to take advantage of niche markets to increase profitability.
(This article was published in the winter 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)