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Weather helps sweet potato producers complete a good harvest

News Release Distributed 10/28/14

CHASE, La. – Sweet potatoes are a staple of many holiday meals, and Louisiana sweet potato producers are nearing the completion of a successful harvest, according to an expert with the LSU AgCenter.

Tara Smith, LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station coordinator, said producers will have nearly 90 percent of the crop harvested by the beginning of November. Favorable weather throughout the bulk of the harvest season has benefitted growers.

“Louisiana sweet potato producers have had great weather. It’s really cooperated with us this season. We’ve had some wet weather in the southern part of the state, but for the most part, we’ve been able to stay on track and get the crop in the shed,” Smith said.

While acreage is slightly higher than last year’s, acreage is still near a historical all-time low, according to Smith. There are signs that the industry is rebounding.

“We think the trend is reversing. There are a lot of positive things going on in the industry. The processing sector has also brought some new blood into the industry, so we’re excited about the potential,” she said.

Myrl Sistrunk, AgCenter sweet potato specialist, said producers are seeing good yields in their fields. “I would say most producers are reporting around 450 to 500 bushels per acre. There have been a few reports of even higher yields,” he said.

Sistrunk said acreage is down significantly from what it was 10 years ago. “We are going to have right around 8,000 acres this year. That figure is less than half of what it was before the hurricanes of 2005 (Katrina and Rita) and 2008 (Gustav). Those wet years really hurt the growers,” he said.

While sweet potatoes can be profitable, they are costly to produce. “On average, sweet potatoes cost about $4,000 per acre, and about 40 to 50 percent of that input cost is directly related to the labor that is required to plant and harvest the crop,” Smith said.

The AgCenter has recently released two varieties, Orleans and Bayou Belle, with the hopes they will provide greater yields than Beauregard, which has been the industry mainstay since the late 1980s.

“Orleans is aimed at the fresh market. Producers will see a little yield bump and a more consistent quality, which translates to a better pack-out percentage. Bayou Belle is catered to the processing industry, and producers are realizing about a 20 percent yield increase when compared to varieties like Beauregard,” Smith said.

According to Smith, about 100,000 acres of sweet potatoes are grown in the United States. Louisiana ranks fourth in production behind California, North Carolina and Mississippi.

Craig Gautreaux

Last Updated: 10/28/2014 9:43:00 AM

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