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USDA grant supports organic sweet potatoes
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi sweet potato growers will benefit from Mississippi State University’s work in a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for research and outreach in support of organic production.
Grants through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture were announced Oct. 13. MSU is leveraging its $49,273 grant by working with colleagues in California, North Carolina and Louisiana.
“Research, education and extension give the organic agriculture industry the opportunity to expand on best practices, implement more efficient techniques and develop new approaches to distributing its products,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
USDA awarded $21 million in grants to help university partners ensure the continued success of organic crops and growers. The MSU grant is part of the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative.
MSU researchers Stephen Meyers, Casey Barickman and Alba Collart are the principal investigators on this grant. Meyers, who is the MSU Extension Service sweet potato specialist, said the goal of the initiative is to solve critical organic agriculture issues, priorities or problems through the integration of research, education and extension activities.
“Historically, Mississippi sweet potato producers have grown approximately 200 acres of certified organic sweet potatoes,” Meyers said. “Between 2014 and 2015, that number has more than doubled, and we are at approximately 500 acres of organic production in Mississippi. It is estimated that this acreage may double again in 2016.
“As a land-grant university, we need to put more effort into understanding organic production systems so that we can provide producers with research-based information to address their needs,” he said.
The first objectives of the MSU grant project are to conduct a market assessment of the organic sweet potato industry and a needs assessment for organic sweet potato producers. Two surveys will determine the greatest needs of current producers of transitional or certified organic sweet potatoes, as well as the greatest barriers for those who want to get into organic production.
Another goal is to form an Organic Sweet Potato Advisory Council that will work with researchers to ensure that participating universities meet the greatest needs of organic sweet potato producers.
Mississippi is partnering with researchers from the Louisiana State University AgCenter, North Carolina State University, and the University of California Cooperative Extension to meet these objectives on national and state levels.
“By collaborating with these other states, we’ll gain a better understanding of how the needs of our producers differ by state and region,” Meyers said. “We’ll also have a larger pool of data from our survey instruments. We are also working with smaller sweet potato production states to ensure that their input is included and that they are a part of our advisory council.”
This material is based upon work that is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture under award number 2015-51300-24141. Any opinions, finding, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the USDA.