Florida Growers and Researchers Unearthing Sweet Potato Potential

sweet potato bloom
Sweet potato production has been blossoming in the U.S. over the last decade. More Florida farmers are considering this hot crop for the summer.
Photo by Bonnie C. Wells

Sweet potato production is a sure sign of summer in the Southeast U.S. And this is becoming the case for more growers every year. According to USDA, production of sweet potatoes in the U.S. has increased substantially over the past decade. In 2015, domestic production figures reached record levels at 3.1 billion pounds.

Needless to say, the sweet potato isn’t just for the holiday plate any more, and if you have ordered a side of fries or chips recently at a restaurant, your server most likely asked you, “Will that be regular or sweet potato?” That’s because food trends have been steadily shifting toward the consumption of healthier, more colorful foods such as the sweet potato; and growers can certainly use that to their marketing advantage.

The viny tropical vegetable is a distant relative of the white potato that thrives in the heat of the long summer days. It is a versatile crop harvested, not only for its highly nutritious tubers, but also for its leaves, both for human and livestock consumption. It also is produced as a bioenergy crop.

A Fit for Florida?

According to the latest estimates, Florida produces nearly 6,000 acres of sweet potatoes on 40 farms with the majority of the production in Miami-Dade and Suwannee counties. But growers in other parts of the state, such as in Tri-County Agricultural Area (St. Johns, Putnam, and Flagler counties), have been looking for alternative crops like sweet potato to diversify their farming operations and enhance sustainability.

The crop isn’t new to the area but, until recently, hasn’t been grown commercially there for more than 20 years. In fact, sweet potatoes were one of the reasons why Hastings, located in the heart of St. Johns County, earned the reputation as the “Potato Capital of Florida.” In the early 1900s, the Hastings area shipped out 43,000 bushels of white potatoes and 23,000 bushels of sweet potatoes every year via railroad to U.S. northern markets.

The Hastings area still leads the state in production of white potatoes, with production occurring from January to June. Sweet potatoes are planted in the spring and early summer, after the growing season for white potatoes, so they can fit nicely into the traditional production systems. And, if growers can take advantage of Florida’s climate and plant sweet potatoes earlier than in other competing states, they might hit a market window advantage and get higher prices.

However, Florida farmers presently rely on getting slips, or young plants, commercially produced for planting from other Southeast states that aren’t available for Florida’s early planting season. Other limits to sweet production in the state are the sweet potato weevil and other insect pests that nearly devastated the industry in the 1980s. Also, because the crop hasn’t been grown in the area for some time, research-based recommendations for variety selections and nutrient management are unknown for the Hastings area soil type.

Sweet potato field and weevil collage
Traps in this field of sweet potatoes at the UF/IFAS Hastings Agricultural Extension Center’s Cowpen Branch demonstration farm are helping researchers monitor for sweet potato weevil activity.
Photos by Bonnie C. Wells

Despite the challenges, with help from UF/IFAS Extension specialists and agents, growers are starting to get some of the answers needed to overcome production challenges. Research and demonstration trials evaluating suitable varieties and nutrient regimes for crop efficiencies at the UF/IFAS Hastings Agriculture Extension Center’s Cowpen Branch farm are now going into their second season.

Palmetto sweet potato variety
‘Palmetto’
Photo by Bonnie C. Wells

Taking the Case to Trial

So far, field trials have evaluated yield and optimal nitrogen rate for four varieties: the white-fleshed, purplish-skinned ‘Boniato,’ the orange-fleshed, red-skinned ‘Burgundy,’ the purple-fleshed, red-skinned, ‘Palmetto,’ and the orange-fleshed, red-skinned standard for production in the U.S., ‘Covington.’

UF/IFAS researchers also have been monitoring populations of the sweet potato weevil, as well as working to perfect the art of slip production that could become a supply for the local growers.

Results show that ‘Boniato’ was the best yielding variety, followed by ‘Burgundy,’ ‘Palmetto,’ and ‘Covington.’ Although ‘Boniato’ and ‘Burgundy’ had greater yields, ‘Palmetto’ may demand a better price with a promising market potential for Florida because of its high content of purple anthocyanin, an antioxidant that not only makes this sweet potato a superfood, but gives it an alluring purple color.

Among the nitrogen rates tested, 90 lbs. per acre had the best yield and nitrogen-use efficiency, and may be considered an appropriate nitrogen application rate for sweet potato production in the area. So far, sweet potato weevil populations have been very low, but will continue to be monitored in the area.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Potatoes Stories
Potatoes
April 25, 2017
Frustrated by Overwintering Culls and Volunteers? Blame Potatoes’ Wild Roots
It sometimes seems that culls and volunteers survive even winter conditions, while your desired crop needs coddling. Taking a look at how feral potatoes behave will give you insights that will help you get the results you need for your crop. Read More
Potato-beetle-eggs
Pest Control
April 25, 2017
How to Manage Three Key Potato Pests
Learn identification and control strategies to protect your crop. Read More
Florida potato plant in full bloom
Potatoes
April 7, 2017
Potato Field Day Set to Dig Up Solutions for Florida Farmers
The latest trends in production and crop protection at center of annual get-together. Read More
Crop Protection
April 5, 2017
Potato Psyllids are Gaining Resistance to Neonicotinoids
Neonicotionoids, a key weapon in the grower’s arsenal against potato psyllids, is becoming less effective, a team of researchers from Texas Read More
drip irrigation line closeup
More Vegetables
March 31, 2017
BMPs Paying off Big for Northeast Florida Farmers
Tri-County Agricultural Area projects to share $1.5 million in funding for continued conservation and nutrient management. Read More
Freeze protected blueberry bushes in Florida
Berries
March 25, 2017
Florida Blueberry Crop Escapes Slap from Late-Season Cold Snap
Freeze protection tactics prove fruitful as local producers look to gain from Georgia’s loss. Read More
Innate Gen 2 Atlantic potato compared to a Snowden FEATURE
Potatoes
March 8, 2017
3 GMO, Late-Blight-Resistant Potato Varieties Get EPA Approval
The introduced genetic material is from wild potato varieties that are resistant to late blight. Read More
Farm Management
February 28, 2017
Key Cabinet Picks Likely Good News for Growers
National Potato Council's John Keeling weighs in on how President Trump's picks for to head up EPA and Department of Agriculture will impact vegetable growers. Read More
sclerotinia
Disease Control
February 23, 2017
Spot Sclerotinia Before It Stops Your Vegetable Crop
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this malady that goes by many names. Read More
Florida potato field in bloom.
Citrus
February 22, 2017
New Insecticide Available to Combat Sucking, Chewing Pests
Minecto Pro from Syngenta has received EPA approval for use in specialty and vegetable crops to control lepidopteran and other pests. Read More
Late blight shown in a tomato
Disease Control
January 19, 2017
Clues Found to Block Late Blight’s Blitz on Potatoes, Tomatoes
With food security at stake, breakthrough in genetic research could help prevent more strains of the deadly pathogen from entering the U.S. Read More
Potatoes
January 12, 2017
NPC’s 2016 Environmental Stewardship Award Goes to Vista Valley Ag
The farm plants a rotation of potatoes, barley, wheat, and alfalfa to reduce pest pressure and uses IPM techniques throughout the farming operation. Read More
Potatoes
January 11, 2017
Potato Growers Select NPC Leadership for 2017
Dwayne Weyers of Aspen Produce in Colorado was chosen as the next president of the National Potato Council. Read More
potato field
Crop Protection
January 4, 2017
New Potato Insecticide/Fungicide Seed Treatment Available
Syngenta’s CruiserMaxx Vibrance receives EPA registration. Read More
Dickeya chrysanthemi of potato
Disease Control
December 21, 2016
Two Tips to Improve Your Potato Seed Stock
High-quality seed stock with a guaranteed low incidence of disease is the first step to success. Read More
The Latest
Potatoes
June 5, 2017
Florida Growers and Researchers Unearthi…
More seeking to dig into production and profit of this appealing alternative superfood crop. Read More
Potatoes
May 10, 2017
Florida Sweet Potato Farmers Learning Ho…
UF/IFAS researchers develop trapping systems for potent pest; studying other crop protection methods to help save revenue. Read More
Potatoes
April 30, 2017
Hot Potato Trends on Front Burner for Fl…
Annual UF/IFAS field day digs into the latest research and comes up with appealing solutions. Read More
Potatoes
April 25, 2017
Frustrated by Overwintering Culls and Vo…
It sometimes seems that culls and volunteers survive even winter conditions, while your desired crop needs coddling. Taking a look at how feral potatoes behave will give you insights that will help you get the results you need for your crop. Read More
Pest Control
April 25, 2017
How to Manage Three Key Potato Pests
Learn identification and control strategies to protect your crop. Read More
Potatoes
April 7, 2017
Potato Field Day Set to Dig Up Solutions…
The latest trends in production and crop protection at center of annual get-together. Read More
Crop Protection
April 5, 2017
Potato Psyllids are Gaining Resistance t…
Neonicotionoids, a key weapon in the grower’s arsenal against potato psyllids, is becoming less effective, a team of researchers from Texas Read More
More Vegetables
March 31, 2017
BMPs Paying off Big for Northeast Florid…
Tri-County Agricultural Area projects to share $1.5 million in funding for continued conservation and nutrient management. Read More
Berries
March 25, 2017
Florida Blueberry Crop Escapes Slap from…
Freeze protection tactics prove fruitful as local producers look to gain from Georgia’s loss. Read More
Potatoes
March 8, 2017
3 GMO, Late-Blight-Resistant Potato Vari…
The introduced genetic material is from wild potato varieties that are resistant to late blight. Read More
Farm Management
February 28, 2017
Key Cabinet Picks Likely Good News for G…
National Potato Council's John Keeling weighs in on how President Trump's picks for to head up EPA and Department of Agriculture will impact vegetable growers. Read More
Disease Control
February 23, 2017
Spot Sclerotinia Before It Stops Your Ve…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this malady that goes by many names. Read More
Citrus
February 22, 2017
New Insecticide Available to Combat Suck…
Minecto Pro from Syngenta has received EPA approval for use in specialty and vegetable crops to control lepidopteran and other pests. Read More
Disease Control
January 19, 2017
Clues Found to Block Late Blight’s…
With food security at stake, breakthrough in genetic research could help prevent more strains of the deadly pathogen from entering the U.S. Read More
Potatoes
January 12, 2017
NPC’s 2016 Environmental Stewardship Awa…
The farm plants a rotation of potatoes, barley, wheat, and alfalfa to reduce pest pressure and uses IPM techniques throughout the farming operation. Read More
Potatoes
January 11, 2017
Potato Growers Select NPC Leadership for…
Dwayne Weyers of Aspen Produce in Colorado was chosen as the next president of the National Potato Council. Read More
Crop Protection
January 4, 2017
New Potato Insecticide/Fungicide Seed Tr…
Syngenta’s CruiserMaxx Vibrance receives EPA registration. Read More
Disease Control
December 21, 2016
Two Tips to Improve Your Potato Seed Sto…
High-quality seed stock with a guaranteed low incidence of disease is the first step to success. Read More