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Louisiana sweet potato growers enjoy strong local base

Abundant supply has caused the market for Louisiana sweet potatoes to remain quite flat in recent months. The weather during the growing season had fluctuated, however overall production was high, leaving growers with a strong supply for the packing season. 

"We are in the middle of the packing season now after the harvest ended at the start of November in Louisiana," said Brian Barham of Bonne Idee Produce, based in Bonita in the northeast part of the state. "It was a good crop. There were some weather concerns as there was a lot of rain at times throughout the season. There are a lot of potatoes in storage and the market has been a bit slow, indicating there is a lot of supply."

Barham said that a local processing facility has enabled local growers to sustain a good business, with a good mix of retail customers along with the processor. "The sweet potatoes are available all year round," he said. "They are shipped to stores and we also have a Louisiana based processor that makes products such as French fries." 

Next generation: Brian Barham and his son Baylor on the first day of the 2017 harvest

Locally grown varieties see good demand
While sweet potato growers in Louisiana do grow widely cultivated varieties, they also produce a few of their own. "The most commonly grown sweet potato in Louisiana is the Beauregard," Barham said. "Another traditional local variety is the Orleans which is derived from the Beauregard. And there is also the Bayou Belle. This is a red colored potato that is exclusively grown for the processor."

Another variety is the Evangeline. This sweet potato was also developed in Louisiana and growers said that despite great feedback from consumers, it is not widely grown anymore. Barham suggested that a low level of awareness is preventing the variety from entering broader markets. "The Evangeline is the best tasting sweet potato of the local varieties," he said. "It has a rose colored skin, deep orange flesh and is very sweet. However, it's not grown much anymore because there is not much of a market. People who have tried it in the past always ask for it and there are even some who drive from interstate to purchase it. We have made an effort locally to make people aware of the sweeter taste and high beta carotene content of Evangeline, but more people should be made aware of this exceptional variety." 

Nematode watch for next season
Recently, a very damaging root-knot nematode was discovered in sweet potato crops in North Carolina and Florida, resulting in some field losses. The nematode so far has not been found in Louisiana. However, growers are keeping a close eye on it, as the current methods used to control nematodes are largely ineffective against this new species.

"We treat fields annually for nematodes as they are nothing out of the ordinary," Barham said. "However, some of the methods we use are not effective against this new type of nematode that has affected some growers on the East coast. Although it is not a huge concern yet for Louisiana growers, some field trials will be conducted this upcoming season to ensure any potential presence is quickly found and dealt with." 

For more information:
Brian Barham
Bonne Idee Produce
Tel: +1 (318) 823-5992

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