Linda Benedict, Van Osdell, Mary Ann | 1/4/2011 11:36:52 PM
Gov. Bobby Jindal, state legislators and ConAgra Food officials thanked the LSU AgCenter during the Nov. 5 grand opening of ConAgra’s new sweet potato processing plant near Delhi.
Amid a sea of orange-clad ConAgra employees, state Sen. Francis Thompson quoted Jackie Gleason with "How sweet it is."
ConAgra’s Lamb Weston division, which is based in Washington state, built the state-of-the-art facility in northeast Louisiana to take advantage of Louisiana’s bountiful sweet potato crop.
Company officials said they chose the location to be in close collaboration with the researchers and extension specialists at the nearby Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase, which is the only facility of its kind in the United States.
Lamb Weston markets frozen sweet potato products – wedges, puffs, mashed – to restaurants through its Sweet Things brand and to grocery stores through its Alexia brand. It operates frozen-food processing plants in the Pacific Northwest, Minnesota and Canada.
Jindal said the plant had a capital investment of $156 million and provided 275 direct jobs and 780 indirect jobs. A second phase will be completed by 2014.
"This is a great win for the workers and farmers," he said, adding that he looks forward to eating the sweet potato fries the plant will process.
"The acknowledgement that the Sweet Potato Research Station contributed to the decision of ConAgra’s Lamb Weston to locate in Louisiana is an example of an institution of higher education – the LSU AgCenter – fueling economic development in our state," said David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor.
"Gov. Jindal, in his remarks, indicated we needed to develop more value-added products from our raw materials," Boethel said. "Certainly, this processing plant will do that for the sweet potato industry."
Boethel said LSU AgCenter research and extension scientists working on sweet potatoes have achieved worldwide recognition. "I want to thank the LSU AgCenter researchers and all of our ag partners," said Jeff DeLapp, president of Lamb Weston. "Great quality food requires great quality ingredients. The northeast Louisiana region has the best sweet potato products in the world."
Gary Rodkin, president and CEO of ConAgra, said he appreciated everyone who played a role in the opening, including the LSU AgCenter.
"This is sweet potato country, the perfect place to extend our leadership in sweet potatoes," Rodkin said.
Louisiana has about 13,000 acres in sweet potato production, and this will grow over the next few years.
Mary Ann Van Osdell
(This article was published in the fall 2010 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)