[Image: Tara Smith in sweet potato field]
[Image: planting sweet potatoes]
News Release Distributed 07/18/14
CHASE, La. – Following several years with decreased acres and growers getting out of the industry, this year looks a lot better for the Louisiana sweet potato industry, said Tara Smith, research coordinator of the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station.
The improvements in the industry can be directly related to new producers and new varieties, Smith said.
“Over the last few years, we’ve had some growers retire,” Smith said. “We’re seeing some changes and growth in the industry, and the two new varieties that were recently released by the AgCenter are all playing a role in the improvements.”
This year the number of acres planted has risen to just over 9,000 acres, but Smith would like to see it go higher.
“I would be happy if we could increase to 10,000-12,000 acres over the next few years,” Smith said. “There is potential for more acreage in the state.”
That number would increase an industry in which some growers are now harvesting 800-1,000 bushels per acre.
“Those are the growers who planted the new LA 07-146 variety, which is really catching on across the state,” Smith said. “This is great news for an industry that normally averages between 300 and 400 bushels per acre.”
In 2012, the AgCenter released the LA 07-146 variety, mainly for the processing sector, and the Orleans variety for the fresh market, she said.
Both of these varieties are gaining a good reputation because of their better pack-out percentage and better quality, Smith said. “LA 07-146 is now producing about 15 percent higher than Beauregard, which was the industry leader for many years,” she said.
“Because LA 07-146 is produced primarily for the Lamb Weston processing plant in Delhi, Louisiana, the high production of the variety somewhat offsets the lower price received for processor versus fresh market potatoes,” she said. “Some of our growers sell 100 percent of their crop to the plant.”
Before new varieties make it to growers’ fields, a lot of work is done by LSU AgCenter sweet potato breeder Don LaBonte and LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Chris Clark.
LaBonte begins the process with 10,000-20,000 seeds each year, and many are eliminated until he’s two or three years into the process when two or three varieties look promising.
“With almost any crop there’s some concern about diseases, and with sweet potatoes there’s the concern in the plant beds trying to produce plants, in the field where we’re trying to produce adequate yields, then in storage where we’re trying to preserve the crop after it’s been harvested,” Clark said.
Smith said Louisiana is fourth in U.S. sweet potato production, behind North Carolina with 60,000 acres, Mississippi and California.
With approximately 25 commercial producers, Louisiana sweet potatoes are planted in early May and harvested from the end of August through early November, she said.
“In addition to sweet potatoes being a very profitable crop for the grower, it is also a powerhouse of nutrition for the consumer,” she said. “They are high in vitamin C, beta carotene and fiber.”
Sweet potato marketing is different from most other crops because it is sold and shipped throughout the year.
“All of our growers have climate-controlled storage, so the crop can be marketed year-round,” she said.
Smith and her staff at the Sweet Potato Research Station are preparing now for their semi-annual field day, which is scheduled for Aug. 7 this year.
“We’ll focus on the breeding and foundation seed program, our production and pest management research that we have ongoing at the station, and we will be demonstrating some new equipment,” she said.
About 80 percent of the sweet potato crop is grown in the northern parishes of Franklin, Richland, West Carroll and Morehouse. The rest are grown in Avoyelles, Acadia, St. Landry and Evangeline parishes.Johnny Morgan