Factors in the decline include the high cost of production the last couple of years, and not enough return on some of the crop.
Louisiana sweet potato acreage continues to decline. The state has about 7,500 acres, down 25 percent from last year and less than half of what farmers were planting 10 years ago, says Tara Smith, coordinator of the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station at Winnsboro, La.
Several factors have led to lower acreage, she said. “One is an aging producer population, and we’ve had several retirements. Another is the high cost of production the last couple of years, and we haven’t realized a large enough return on some of the crop we’re marketing.”
Farmers across the country produced a good crop last year, which led to an oversupply of sweet potatoes and low prices. Farmers were selling their highest grade No. 1 potatoes for less than they did 20 years ago.
Sweet potatoes are expensive to produce, but the crop also has the highest revenue potential, so Smith is optimistic that new growers may be attracted to the crop.
A cold and wet spring delayed field preparation this year, but growers have good stands of sweet potatoes.
The majority of the state’s crop is planted in the variety Beauregard, but more growers are trying two new varieties released last year – Orleans and La 07146.
“Orleans is a Beauregard-type potato. It has a beautiful shade and more consistency hill-to-hill than Beauregard and slightly higher yield,” Smith said. “We’re really excited about what it may bring to the fresh market.”
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The other variety, La 07146, is aimed at the processing market for sweet potato french fries. On average it yields 15 to 20 percent higher than Beauregard. “It’s the first variety to really give Beauregard a run for its money in terms of yields,” Smith said.
The sugarcane beetle is a major pest of sweet potatoes. LSU AgCenter researchers received a specialty crop grant from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to study the biology and ecology of this pest and develop better ways to manage it.
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