This time of year should be the “heart” of sweet potato planting season in Louisiana. But instead, the production schedule is being delayed by unrelenting rain.
Normally, about 60-70 percent of the sweet potato fields in south Louisiana would be planted by now and about 20-25 percent of the fields in north Louisiana, according to Myrl Sistrunk, LSU AgCenter extension associate.
But in his survey of growers, Sistrunk found that reports of transplanting completed range from zero to 80 percent in south Louisiana – Avoyelles, Evangeline, St Landry, Rapides, Acadia parishes. In north Louisiana – West Carroll, Morehouse, Richland and Franklin parishes – the range is zero to 30 percent.
Sweet potatoes are grown from plant cuttings and not seed. Growers plant seed potatoes in late February and March and then make cuttings from the sprouts. During spring they transplant the cuttings into fields.
“Some reports indicate plant beds are still in manageable conditions, while others indicate some beds are overgrown, which will be an issue if they have to harvest plants from those particular beds,” Sistrunk said. “Wet soil conditions have prevented growers from being able to groom plants that need grooming.”
One grower in Evangeline Parish said his beds were disappointing this year because “a lot of the seed potatoes rotted in the beds,” Sistrunk said.
Yet, everyone is still optimistic about the season, Sistrunk said. “We need a break in the weather.”
If growers can finish their transplanting by the third week in June or first of July, then this should be a good season.
Sistrunk said acreage planted should be about 9,000 this year, which will be about a 500-acre increase over last year.
There are about 55 commercial sweet potato growers in the state. Sweet potato production in 2014 contributed about $117 million to the Louisiana economy, according to the LSU AgCenter Ag Summary.