Louisiana sweet potato harvest off to late start

Bruce Schultz  |  10/11/2017 2:24:42 PM

(10/11/17) CHASE, La. — After a challenging growing season, Louisiana farmers are harvesting sweet potatoes, but the crop is somewhat delayed in areas.

Development of this year’s crop has been slow for some growers, said Tara Smith, resident coordinator at the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station. “But some areas look really good with nice yields,” she said.

Farmers in other areas are harvesting potatoes that have been small, so some are delaying the rest of their harvest until they get rain that could boost growth. “We are in droughty conditions,” Smith said.

Warm temperatures are good for size increases, but more moisture is needed, too. On the other hand, areas that got too much rain in August and September are seeing potatoes that have rotted in the field from excess moisture.

“So far, a lot of the producers have been able to dig and get some good yields,” said AgCenter sweet potato extension associate Myrl Sistrunk. “It’s shaping up for those to be a good year.”

Some growers are reporting yields of 600 bushels an acre or better. Although average yields vary by variety, the state average yield for the past five years is around 450 bushels per acre, Smith said.

Sistrunk estimated this year’s statewide crop at 9,200 acres, down slightly from last year.

Heavy rains during the growing season probably had an effect on size, but now those same fields could use rain. “Most could use an inch or an inch and a half,” he said.

But weather is not the only problem facing growers. Selling sweet potatoes has become more difficult. At one time, Louisiana had at least 10 sweet potato canneries to buy Louisiana-grown product, but now there are none. The closest one was a Del Monte plant in Arkansas, and it shut down suddenly in September.

Currently, the LambWeston plant near Delhi processes large sweet potatoes for the french fry market.

According to the LSU AgCenter Ag Summary for 2016, the statewide total gross farm value for sweet potatoes was estimated at $43.5 million.

Louisiana remained fourth in sweet potato production acreage in the United States behind North Carolina, Mississippi and California.

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Workers harvest sweet potatoes in a field farmed by Ricky and Cory Juneau near the Avoyelles Parish town of Hessmer. Ricky Juneau said the harvest is going well, but his fields need rain to help settle the dust and to soften the ground to make harvest easier. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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Sweet potatoes are unloaded with a forklift in a field in Avoyelles Parish. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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