Tara P. Smith
Commercially produced sweet potatoes in Louisiana are most often harvested using a two-row mechanical chain harvester, more commonly known as a two-row sweet potato digger. With this method, roots are exposed and then conveyed along a chain, where workers on each side of the equipment sort the roots into various grades. One-row chain harvesters are also used occasionally, and some larger producers use four-row bulk harvesters, both of which operate similarly to the two-row harvester. Ten to twelve people are required to operate one two-row digger, and each two-row digger can harvest two to four acres per day under ideal conditions. Larger operations employ the use of several diggers at any given time during the harvest season.
An alternative harvest method, which has become more popular in Louisiana in recent years, is to harvest using a shaker digger. This harvest method also utilizes chains once the roots are exposed. In contrast to the two-row mechanical harvester, the shaker harvester lays the roots on top of the soil, where they are subsequently collected by hand by several workers, placed into buckets and eventually into large storage bins. A producer using a four-row shaker digger can harvest approximately 20 acres per day with 20-25 hand laborers collecting roots.
Both harvest methods have advantages and disadvantages. The shaker method is used more in areas with lighter soil textures, where the roots are easily seen and can be graded easily by workers. This method is also preferred in smaller fields not amenable to maneuvering the large equipment used in the conventional mechanical chain harvester method. Both types of harvest are extremely labor-intensive.
Tara P. Smith, Assistant Professor, Sweet Potato Research Station, Chase, La
(This article was published in the spring 2009 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)