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Sweetpotato Growers Celebrate '96 Harvest
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's sweetpotato growers win the national bragging rights for the quality of this year's crop.
Buyers, who traditionally have looked to North Carolina for sweetpotatoes, are turning to Mississippi and Louisiana for much of this year's supplies.
The quality of the crop in North Carolina, the nation's top sweetpotato state, was affected by two damaging hurricanes.
"The marketplace is recognizing the quality of Mississippi's sweetpotatoes more than ever," said Benny Graves, plant pathologist with the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry. "Mississippi's sweetpotato crop is beautiful this year."
Buyers appreciate Mississippi's Beauregard variety, which is not North Carolina's primary sweetpotato because of its incompatibility with the soil types.
Dr. Paul Thompson, Mississippi State University extension horticulturist at Pontotoc, said Mississippi growers planted about 25 percent more acres, and yields also are better than in recent years.
Thompson said growers planted most of the crop in June and had plenty of rain throughout the growing season. Unlike last year, insects were not a problem.
"Growers began a weevil control program last year and continued the program this year to completely eliminate those pests," Thompson said.
Graves said this year's Mississippi crop is about 8,200 acres, which is 2,100 acres more than 1995. Yields are running around 265 bushels, compared to 230 bushels in 1995.
"If we translated the good news in the sweetpotato harvest to cotton terms, we'd be talking about 3.5 bales of cotton to the acre," Graves said.
"Mississippi's crop benefited from a combination of good weather conditions and good management by the growers," Graves said. "Farmers controlled insects that damaged last year's crop, plus we had good moisture conditions in August and September."
Calhoun County agent Mike Howell said this year's successes have growers talking about expanding acreage and storage facilities next year.
"Growers and their families are actively promoting sweetpotatoes to help improve demand," Howell said. "Several local people are traveling to food shows to demonstrate products madewith Mississippi sweetpotatoes."
Another spotlight on this fall crop is the sweetpotato Festival in Vardaman on Nov. 2. Activities continue throughout the week and conclude with a banquet on Nov. 9.