view current print edition




Mississippi sweet potato growers plunge forward after difficult year

by Christina DiMartino | March 17, 2010
Following a nearly devastating 2009 sweet potato harvest caused by heavy rains, producers in Mississippi are putting the past behind them and gearing up for the future. The state says it will be down by as much as 75 percent, depending on how packouts unfold.

"We're in a comeback mode," Benny Graves, executive secretary and treasurer of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council in Mississippi State, MS, told The Produce News. "Our focus is on sourcing financing, which is a national issue because loans are tight. We're also ramping up the Evangeline variety. It tends to hold up well in wet weather."

A note of good news during a bad year is the great success of the annual National Sweet Potato Convention held in late January. The MSPC hosted the event at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, MS.

"We had over 375 in attendance, which is great," said Mr. Graves. "A great mix of people attended, including growers, researchers, processors, distributors and some foodservice operators."

Mr. Graves said that by supplementing supplies from North Carolina and California, Mississippi growers have adequate supplies for market. Growers recently did a review, and reports are that they will be able to pack through Easter.

"We have some supplies in cold storage for our regular customers," Mr. Graves added. "But we will be out of the market after Easter. Louisiana is reporting the same conditions."

Growers in Mississippi are plunging forward. Mr. Graves said they are in a rebuilding mindset, and they are fairly optimistic about the next crop. Growers have individual plans for securing seed and getting financing. "Mississippi is working with the state legislature in an effort to get financing," said Mr. Graves. "We are in need of low-interest loans. We have a plan in place to re-enter the market with the next crop. "

Growers are also securing seed potatoes now. Although they will concentrate on the Evangeline variety for the coming season, they will also be planting Beauregard and Covington varieties.

Bedding started in mid-March and will run through early April as weather permits. Growers will be setting plants in fields from mid-May through June. Harvesting begins in late August to early September under normal weather conditions. It typically runs through the first of November.

"We're thinking optimistically, and looking for new opportunities," said Mr. Graves.

(For more on sweet potatoes, see the March 22, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)