Louisiana: Sweet Potato Producers See Weather-Related Losses

Louisiana sweet potato growers are experiencing a tough harvest period following record rains that hit the state in August.

In north Louisiana, many growers took a double hit from wet weather, first in March and again in August, said Myrl Sistrunk, LSU AgCenter extension associate.

Wet weather in the spring had a negative impact on the planting, and the August and early September rains are causing losses during harvest.

“Every grower is experiencing some amount of potatoes rotting in the fields,” Sistrunk said. “Growers in south Louisiana have been impacted worst from the August rains.”

Growers planted more than 9,200 acres of sweet potatoes, down from about 20,000 acres a few years ago, he said.

In addition to losing some of the crop in the fields, producers also have the problem of “skinning” the potatoes during the harvest.

“Environmental factors such as soil moisture and temperature can cause skinning, which is acceptable for the processing market, but not so much for the fresh market,” Sistrunk said.

Cosmetics is not as important for potatoes headed for the processing plant, Sistrunk said. But consumers are less likely to purchase potatoes with scars and blemishes.

More than 30 percent of this year’s crop has sustained some damage, the extent of which varies statewide, but Sistrunk is not sure how much prices will be affected.

“Our acreage is small compared to the big guys like North Carolina, which has over 90,000 acres planted,” he said. “We’ll have to wait to see how the recent storms in that area have affected their crop.”

About 50 percent of Louisiana’s crop has been harvested, and Sistrunk hopes harvest is complete by late November.

The good news is that about two-thirds of the growers have some form of crop insurance, he said. That will help some, but their current financial situation will determine whether they will stay in the business or get out.

Some growers are having to wait for their tubers to grow larger before they harvest so they can sell at heavier weights.

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