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Sweetpotato Crop Varies Because Of Patchy Rains
By Crystel Bailey
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi sweetpotato farmers can expect variable crops this year, depending on the amount of rainfall each of their fields received.
"Most farmers can expect an average crop, but it will vary because some fields received more rain than others. There will probably not be as many bigger potatoes because of the drought. Not only do dry conditions stunt their growth, but it allows timely harvest that prevents oversizing," said Paul Thompson, Extension horticulture specialist for Mississippi State University.
Thompson said digging in Mississippi started at least a week early, beginning in late July. Most Mississippi farms normally produce about 300 bushels of sweetpotatoes per acre.
The Mississippi Agricultural Statistics Service said that 38 percent of sweetpotatoes were harvested as of mid-September. The five- year average is 29 percent harvested by this time.
"Besides the ground being ready to harvest sooner than usual, this past spring was so dry and warm that sweetpotato plants were ready for planting early," Thompson said.
Dry conditions not only affected growth, but played a part in the insect problems that seem to be getting worse each year for Mississippi sweetpotato farmers.
"The drought has caused the soil to crack open. Armyworms that normally do not get into the soil have been getting down to the root and feeding, causing injury," Thompson said.
Danny Bailey of Cane Creek Farms, Inc. in Vardaman said there are about 12,500 acres of sweetpotatoes this year in Mississippi, which is about 2,000 acres more than last year. He said more sweetpotatoes mean more insects.
"As the acres increase, there are more potatoes for the insects to eat. Plus, the past three winters have been mild, which have allowed more insects to survive. The potatoes still in the fields do not freeze, and insects nest in them during the winter," Bailey said.
Despite the average crop and insect problems, Bailey said Mississippi farmers usually sell them for about $2 more per bushel than do other states because of their flavor, taste and quality.
Bailey said farmers are selling top grade potatoes, known as No. 1s, for about $10 per bushel. Jumbos, which are more than 3 1/2 inches in diameter, are selling for about $7 per bushel; and No. 2s, which are off grade, are selling for about $6 per bushel. Canners, which are smaller potatoes that go to processing, are selling for about $1.50 per bushel.
Sweetpotato prices range from about 25 cents to 89 cents per pound in grocery stores.