Florida growers see growing potential for sweet potatoes

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.

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.

One major limiting factor for sweet potato production in the state however, is 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.

Results from field trials have shown that ‘Boniato’ was the best yielding variety, followed by ‘Burgundy,’ ‘Palmetto,’ and ‘Covington.’ Although ‘Boniato’ and ‘Burgundy’ had greater yields, ‘Palmetto’ may command 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.

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