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Dry Weather Hampers Sweetpotato Harvest
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
STARKVILLE -- Growers are hoping for more rainfall to aid harvest of Mississippi's 6,000 acres of sweetpotatoes.
Acreage is up about 20 percent for 1995, due to good prices and expanding markets for Mississippi's sweetpotatoes.
"Our sweetpotatoes are high quality, and are competing well in the marketplace," said Benny Graves, plant pathologist with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry in Starkville.
Expanded markets in Texas, Atlanta and along the East Coast have helped increase sales and have kept prices level.
"Some of our growers who sold out of potatoes last year decided to increase their acreage for 1995 to meet this demand," said Charles Fitts, Chickasaw County agent.
Prices to growers have averaged about $12 per 40-pound box before transportation costs. Early yields look good for 1995, at about 300 bushels per acre, Graves said.
Harvest is 30 percent complete, but the hard, dry ground is making digging the sweetpotatoes a challenge. Hurricane Erin brought the last significant rain for many of Mississippi's sweetpotato growers in early August.
Mike Howell, Calhoun County agent, said the hard ground can skin and bruise the potatoes during harvesting. Calhoun County is the leader of sweetpotato production in Mississippi.
"Many growers have irrigated in front of the diggers to help harvest," Howell said. "A good rain would make digging easier, resulting in better quality potatoes, and would help some of the still-maturing potatoes fill out."
State growers are hoping several inches of rain will accompany the cooler fall temperatures.
In some areas, insect pests are motivating growers to harvest earlier than planned to avoid damage and insecticide costs.
"We've had pressure from budworms, soybean loopers and armyworms," Howell said. "Sometimes the ends of the mature Beauregard variety will pop out of the ground -- and the worms are attacking the exposed potatoes."
The Beauregard sweetpotato variety is popular among Mississippi's growers for its high yield potential.
Graves said growers are hopeful that cooler nighttime temperatures will slow down the worms' attack in later-planted fields.
The cool temperatures of November will give sweetpotato growers and enthusiasts a chance to celebrate 1995's good yields at the 22nd annual Sweetpotato Festival in Vardaman.
"The festival, set for Nov. 4, will feature arts and crafts, tasting booths, cooking contests and recipes," Graves said.
For more information about the festival, contact the Calhoun County extension office at (601) 628-6671.