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In Louisiana Sweet potato yields boost 2007 crop

Sweet potato harvest conditions in Louisiana have been more cooperative in 2007 than in 2006, when late season rains meant some acreage went unharvested.

And though the acreage is down slightly — 15,000 acres compared to 16,000 acres — the yields should more than compensate, according to Tara Smith, LSU AgCenter sweet potato specialist headquartered at the Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase, La. “Producers in general are pleased with the 2007 crop,” Smith said.

The sweet potato harvest is about 90 percent complete, Smith said. Because of last year's weather problems, several producers increased harvesting capacity with additional harvesters and hand laborers.

“Barring any unforeseen weather events, producers should wrap up the harvest by Nov. 15.”

The production year started off on a positive note. Soil moisture and temperatures were ideal for planting in May and June. As a result, the majority of the crop was planted by June 15.

“We experienced an unusually wet July across the state, with most production areas receiving 10-12 inches of rainfall in July.

“The excess moisture contributed to delayed maturity, and harvest began a couple of weeks later than expected because early plantings were slower to size than normal.”

Myrl Sistrunk, LSU AgCenter county agent in West Carroll Parish (the leading sweet potato producing parish in 2006 with 6,500 acres yielding on average 300 bushels per acre) said harvest is going well so far in northeast Louisiana.

“The weather has cooperated well for the harvest compared to last year's weather problems,” he said.

In 2006, according to the LSU AgCenter, sweet potato production contributed more than $100 million to Louisiana's economy.

Smith said insect pests have been a problem in 2007 — especially cucumber beetles. “Producers in north Louisiana experienced heavier populations of this insect than they had in recent years, and most were scouting and spraying weekly.”

In addition, several south Louisiana producers reported significant pockets of white grub damage on a few early-planted acres.

“We experienced some significant weed pressure this year because of the July rainfall,” Smith said. “Yellow and purple nutsedge were widespread. In addition, many growers had issues with smell melon, morning glories and pigweed.”

The nutsedge problem is a difficult one because there are no labeled herbicides to control nutsedge after planting.

Average total yields per acre are ranging around 300-350 bushels per acre, Smith said. “Some producers have seen yields in certain fields of 400-600 bushels per acre.”

A new variety, Evangeline — released by the LSU AgCenter in early 2007 — was planted in small plots on several farms this year. In addition, several acres of Evangeline seed were planted at the Sweet Potato Station in 2007, and many Louisiana producers will have an opportunity to evaluate the variety on a limited commercial scale in 2008.

Movement of the early harvested portion of the 2007 crop has been strong.

“Louisiana producers are pleased with the current prices they are receiving and are confident about the quality of the potatoes going into storage,” Smith said.

Sistrunk said several growers have had to rent additional storage facilities for their crop.

“Consumers are beginning to understand the health benefits of incorporating sweet potatoes into their diets,” Smith said. “We're seeing a push for a quality stored product, which is why a lot of growers are putting in storage facilities that can hold sweet potatoes for up to a year.”

She said holiday demand would be satisfied by this year's crop. “There are a lot of different ways to use sweet potatoes. They are not just a baked item on the table at Thanksgiving anymore.”

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