What is in this article?:
- Lucrative sweet potatoes finding place on former tobacco acres
- Less pest damage
• With relatively low input and capital costs and a short learning curve, they are able to earn gross returns of up to $7,000 per acre, mostly through local sales.
Less pest damage
Working with three farmers around Vardaman, Miss., and others in Arkansas, Arancibia’s trials found that an organically grown crop suffered far less pest damage than a conventionally grown one.
In addition, he focused on showing the soil building qualities of cover crops.
“Sweet potatoes are root vegetables, so they need a very healthy soil. Also, the soil structure needs to be very good so the potatoes can grow in a nice shape,” Arancibia says, referring to cover crops’ ability to improve organic matter and loosen hard-packed soils.
To help get the word out, Arancibia is sharing his findings with the 104-member Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, which represents nearly all the state’s growers.
One farmer who collaborated with Arancibia is planning to plant a brassica cover crop on 50 acres next season, to see if it will combat nematodes.
Back in Kentucky, Coolong’s on-farm trials showed that aside from using pesticides to control wireworm damage, sweet potatoes require few inputs — and some growers are, in fact, pesticide free.
Sweet potatoes have low nitrogen needs, and, in eastern Kentucky, do not require irrigation except in the case of extreme drought.
“There are a lot of nuances with sweet potato production that this grant really allowed us to look at,” says Coolong, whose work translated into a detailed handbook and the formation of a regional grower’s association.
Two areas that require more work, he says, are establishing over-winter storage facilities and production of slips — the sprouts that come off a potato and turn into new plants.
Slips are not grown locally and are expensive to buy from out of state, so showing local growers how to produce their own represents another opportunity.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) OS09-047, Sweetpotatoes: A profitable crop for small farms in rural Eastern Kentucky, and LS09-215, Developing low-cost sustainable sweet potato production strategies to facilitate adoption in the mid-south.