Research projects aimed at improving sweet potato production are under way in Mississippi and with collaborators in other states, says Steve Meyers, northeast regional Extension specialist at Pontotoc, Miss.

Meyers, who joined Extension in January, is also serving as the state’s sweet potato specialist.

“With sweet potatoes, you’re selling a unique package of water, wrapped up in edible form,” he told growers at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s summer sweet potato commodity meeting at Thorn, Miss. “Our goal is to listen to you and to try and conduct research that will help you improve yields and quality of your product.”

This involves a multi-discipline research, he says, including specialists in production, ag and biological engineering, weed science, nematology/pathology, entomology, food science, and ag economics.

At the Producer Advisory Council meeting, held in February each year at Verona, Miss., “Sweet potato growers tell us what kind of problems they’re facing and what they’d like to see us consider for research projects,” Meyers says. “Then we go out and visit with growers on their farms and listen to what they tell us, and from all that input we develop proposals for research.

 “From there, it’s a matter of finding funding to support that research, on Mississippi State University property, at our experiment stations, and on-farm,” he says. “There are at least 12 on-farm studies this year with at least 10 growers, stretching across the sweet-potato growing region of the state. We currently also have submitted proposals for grants to support research in sustainability, and a multi-state project that has a climate change component. Grants we’ve received in the specialty crops sector have also helped fund sweet potato research.”

At this year’s Producer Advisory Council meeting, grower suggestions included the need for additional research on varieties, pest management (nematodes, weeds, and insects), and added value uses for non-marketable sweet potatoes.

“We are part of a multi-state organization, the National Sweet Potato Collaborators Group,” Meyers says. “This includes Extension and research specialists from Land Grant universities across the country, and we meet yearly to discuss research programs. One of the major components of this program is sweet potato breeding. North Carolina State University and Louisiana State University submit lines for group members to try in their states.

“We evaluate things like sprout production, yield, flesh color, storage, root shape and root shape uniformity, It’s interesting to see how some of these variables change from state to state. In 2012, varieties submitted to collaborators were grown in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and there were even some trials in Canada.”

“Lines that are being grown in Mississippi this year include Orleans/L05-111, a variety that’s being grown more in this state; three other Louisiana advanced lines, L04-175, L06-052, L07-146; a North Carolina advanced line, NC07-364; and standards Covington and Beauregard (B14 and 63).

“Our annual sweet potato field day will be held Aug. 22 at the Pontotoc Ridge-Flatwoods Branch station, with registration tentatively set at 8 a.m. At that time, we’ll dig some of these varieties and you can see firsthand how they’re performing.”

In addition to the other trials, Meyers says, “We’re growing some advanced lines from Don LaBonte, LSU sweet potato breeder. We have one study in Webster County with 16 of his advanced lines and three standards to see how they perform in Mississippi soils. Don and I will harvest them this fall and evaluate yield, root quality, and nematode tolerance, which is a concern for a lot of growers. He has five other locations in other states.”