Early sweet potato harvest signals good year
The Louisiana sweet potato harvest has gotten underway, and early indications are this year’s crop will be good for growers.
Myrl Sistrunk, extension associate in the LSU AgCenter’s sweet potato extension and outreach program, said heavy rains have caused some losses due to rot in some areas of south Louisiana.
Grower Todd Cullen, who has 150 acres of sweet potatoes near Evergreen in Avoyelles Parish, said heavy rainfall has been a problem for him. “Last month we had 12 inches of rain,” he said.
Muddy soil prevented the sweet potatoes from growing, Cullen said. “The quality is good, but the potatoes are small.”
Harvest is just getting started in north Louisiana, and some potatoes are undersized. The smaller potatoes could grow more before the vines are cut and digging starts, Cullen said.
Cullen said his crop is producing 200 bushels an acre of fresh market potatoes and 150 bushels an acre for processing, but he expects the yield to increase in the next few weeks.
“Some growers are getting 500-600 bushels an acre,” Sistrunk said. “If they can wait a week, yields are going to bump up.”
Some of the crop is rounded, or flat-sided, a possible indication of phosphorous deficiency, he said.
So far prices look good for the limited amount of potatoes available for packing for the fresh market, Sistrunk said. “In checking with some growers, they have been quoted a price of $17 to $18 per 40-pound carton of packed No. 1 potatoes.”
Weeds have been a problem in north and south Louisiana this year, he said, but insects have not posed much of a threat.
Cullen, like most growers, still relies heavily on the AgCenter variety Beauregard, which was released in 1987.
Sistrunk said more varieties are in development by AgCenter breeder Don Labonte.
Total Louisiana sweet potato acreage is around 8,000 this year, an increase of roughly 1,000 acres from 2013 but still less than a third of what it once was, Sistrunk said. At one time, the total acreage in West Carroll Parish alone exceeded 8,000 acres.
Cullen estimated the total acreage in Avoyelles Parish at less than 2,000 acres. “Ten years ago, it was over 5,000.”
The acreage decline is likely due to several consecutive years of financial difficulties for growers, Sistrunk said. In addition, growers who are retiring are not being replaced by younger farmers.
North Carolina, Mississippi and California are the top sweet potato producers. “Louisiana used to be No. 2, now we’re No. 4,” he said.
Demand is good because of increased interest resulting from consumers’ health consciousness. Pet food manufacturers are also considering sweet potatoes in their products, he said.