Nov 19

Farmers Improve Sweetpotato Production Efficiency

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Hills of 'Evangeline' sweetpotatoes

Growth in the processing sector and nutrition conscious consumers are fueling sweetpotato popularity in the United States.  Production of the crop exceeded two billion lbs in 2010, the largest crop since 1950.  In addition, domestic per capita consumption increased by 34% during the last decade.  Yet variable yields, ranging from 350-900 bushels/acre, and rising production costs, exceeding $4,000.00 per acre, have left many producers on the edge of profitability. Unfortunately, producers must contend with huge variations in storage root yield, quality, disease, and storability in fields.

The long term goal of this project is to improve sweetpotato production efficiency, by overcoming production limitations that reduce yield, improving root quality and addressing food safety and emerging disease threats.  Through research and on-farm validation of an initial production model we identified conditions that lead to yield loss.  Producers who participated as case studies are not only aware of the model based decisions concerning sweetpotato production, but they implemented these practices on their farms, made informed decisions and subsequently realized optimum results, thereby demonstrating that our research has already impacted early adopters.

Through workshops and surveys, we are identifying food safety hazards and developing crisis communication plans for all participating states which will serve as a system for ensuring food safety for a $400 million industry.  Our participatory approach will aid in the development of a decision support system which will reduce yield variability and improve efficiencies.  Ultimately, our efforts will ensure our producers capitalize on expanding opportunities and remain profitable.