Acreage of sweet potatoes in Mississippi is down about 10 percent this year and the crop is about a week later than normal due to unfavorable spring weather, says Benny Graves, executive director of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council.
“We don’t have final acreage figures yet,” he said at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s summer sweet potato commodity meeting at Thorn, “but it looks like we’re down about 10 percent from 2012, with about 3,500 acres, possibly as much as 4,000.”
Production is expected to be down in other states also, he says. North Carolina, the largest producer in the U.S., also got a late start on this year’s crop, with acreage likely to be off about 10 percent from last year, with around 9,000 acres. Louisiana is expected to have about 7,000 acres.
“The condition of the crop in Mississippi ranges from good, about 70 percent of the acreage, to not so good,” Graves says. “About 20 percent of the crop has problems of some kind. Areas that have had rain recently have seen an improvement in crop condition.”
Sweet potato prices “aren’t where we’d like them to be,” he says. “With the supply that is in storage, prices will probably stay down for a while. But I don’t think there is by any means an over-supply, and at some point we should see price improvement. But just when that will happen is hard to predict.”
Growers need to “keep an eye on how things go in North Carolina,” Graves says, in order to get a feel for how the market is shaping up.
“There is plenty of room for growth of Mississippi’s sweet potato industry. We have experienced growers and a good infrastructure. We just need to enhance our marketing program in order to boost demand, and to look for new ways to add value to our commodity.”
The non-profit Mississippi Sweet Potato Council was founded in 1964 to promote the state’s sweet potatoes and to educate growers on the latest practices to improve their product and their livelihood. It is one of the oldest agricultural organizations of its kind in the Mississippi and has about 150 members, representing over 100 farms and more than two dozen packing facilities.
The majority of Mississippi’s production is centered around the town of Vardaman in Calhoun County, and in adjacent Webster, Chickasaw, and Grenada Counties.
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“Many of our producers are members of families who have been involved in growing sweet potatoes for four to five generations,” Graves says. “They have stayed abreast of the latest advances in production practices, storage and packing, by working closely with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the Department of Plant Sciences at Mississippi State University, and by visiting other sweet potato growing operations around the country.
“These growers offer the latest in temperature and humidity-controlled storage facilities, as well as the latest in packing facilities. Mississippi shippers pack and ship all over the U.S. and worldwide, according to buyer needs and specifications. In recent years, our members have been successful in developing new markets in Canada and Europe.”