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Sweet potato crop faring well

Louisiana sweet potato crop faring well despite heat, drought.

Olivia McClure

September 12, 2023

5 Min Read
Sweet potato harvest
LSU AgCenter sweet potato breeder Don La Bonte, left, talks with Bryan Bowen, director of agronomy for Black Gold Farms, about LA 18-100, a promising sweet potato line that could be released to the industry. These sweet potatoes, along with some of several other varieties and experimental lines, were on display during a field day held Aug. 31, 2023, in Delhi. Olivia McClure, LSU AgCenter

In a summer replete with challenges for Louisiana farmers as they’ve dealt with a heatwave and extended drought conditions, there is finally some good news on the agricultural front. The state’s sweet potato crop is doing just fine, and although harvest may be slightly delayed this year, some producers are expecting bumper yields.

It’s especially good news for the Louisiana sweet potato industry, which has been recovering from devastating losses suffered last year. Heavy, late-season rains in 2022 caused potatoes to rot in the field, severely limiting yields and profits.

This year is a different story, though, and that provided a positive backdrop for the LSU AgCenter’s annual sweet potato field day. The event, held Aug. 31 at Black Gold Farms in Delhi, drew dozens of attendees, including many from out of state and even out of the country.

Experts from the AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station and other units presented the latest information on growing strategies, the sweet potato breeding program and pest control.

Sweet potato production

Louisiana has about 6,100 acres of sweet potatoes this year, down from about 7,000 last year. Much of the acreage is located in northeastern Louisiana, with a smaller cluster of production in the southern portion of the state.

Despite less acreage, “what we do have looks like it’s going to be pretty strong going into harvest season,” said Cole Gregorie, AgCenter sweet potato specialist.

A few producers have begun harvesting, and early reports indicate good yields, he said. But many farmers are waiting until later in September or October to dig up their crop, which needs some extra time to grow to the proper size this year because of the hot, dry weather conditions.

“When we get into cooler nights, you’re going to get more storage root bulking, and it’s going to really allow that crop to size up to where the processors want it,” Gregorie said.

Irrigation critical

Irrigation has been critical to the success of this year’s crop. About 80% of Louisiana sweet potato fields are irrigated.

“As time has gone on, more and more of our sweet potato acreage has become irrigated just like our row crop acreage,” Gregorie said. “As the demand for this crop and the input costs for this crop continue to go up, it’s really an insurance policy for our growers to be able to grow a crop in an inclement season such as this one and still get returns.”

Having adequate moisture, whether from irrigation or rainfall, is particularly important at the beginning of the growing season. The AgCenter recommends that sweet potato slips — vine cuttings that are used to propagate new plants — get 1/2 inch of water within 24 hours of going in the ground.

“It seems very strict, but there is a science behind it,” said AgCenter agronomist Arthur Villordon.

With some varieties, such as Bayou Belle, roots start growing within those first 24 hours, he said.

Dry conditions

Continued dry conditions can lead to reduced yields and poor-quality potatoes that skin easily and are misshapen.

Some more good news for farmers? A new variety that stands up to hot, dry growing seasons like this one could be on the way.

At the field day, AgCenter sweet potato breeder Don La Bonte showed off a sweet potato currently called LA 18-100. It has many positive attributes, he said, including early maturity.

“That’s something our industry has needed,” he said. “We have a potato that potentially could be harvested at 90 or 95 days instead of 110 or 120 days.”

The shorter production cycle could be beneficial in two ways. Farmers could harvest sooner and get their product on the market faster. And in years when there is too much rain or other obstacles in the usual May-to-June planting season, farmers could plant 18-100 later, and it would mature in time for them to harvest in the fall as they normally would.

The 18-100 line also has high yields and does well in various soil types. It looks a lot like the Beauregard and Orleans varieties, two industry standards that are generally sold on the fresh market rather than to the processing sector, which prefers varieties such as Bayou Belle.

Challenging weather years like this one are valuable when evaluating an experimental line for potential release as a variety.

“We’re looking for what’s right and what’s wrong with it,” La Bonte said. “So far we see a lot right. But when we trial in a lot of different plots and we have everything go wrong — no rain, too much heat, too much everything — does it perform as well as our mainstream varieties, which would be Orleans and Beauregard?”

So far, he said, “it looks like it’s really a strong performer.”

AgCenter program

Matt Lee, LSU vice president for agriculture, said the AgCenter sweet potato breeding program and other research efforts are crucial to the industry — not just in Louisiana, but in other states and around the globe in countries such as Australia. AgCenter sweet potato varieties are grown there, and a few Australian producers were at the field day.

“The LSU AgCenter is world renowned for a variety of things, and sweet potato research is one of the things we’re most well-known for,” Lee said. “In terms of acreage, it’s smaller than some of the other crops. But in terms of its financial impact and in terms of our global reach, it is truly extraordinary.”

According to the latest AgCenter statistics, the sweet potato industry contributes $77.2 million annually to the Louisiana economy.

For more information about the AgCenter’s sweet potato work, visit to watch a virtual field day that includes several presentations by researchers about their projects.

Source: Louisiana State University AgCenter

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