Collaborations among growers and industry partners have long sustained the growth and profitability of the sweet potato industry in Louisiana. This cooperation was never more evident as growers, processors, regulatory agencies, researchers and marketing groups came together for the annual LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Field Day held Aug. 22 at Black Gold Farms near Delhi.
“In any agricultural community, producers are driven to see what other producers are doing,” said LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station coordinator Tara Smith.
Small-plot research first conducted at the Sweet Potato Research Station at Chase applied on a commercial scale in cooperation with growers like Black Gold Farms helps researchers, producers and industry see how varieties and production programs perform.
“We like to be on the cutting edge,” said Todd O’Neal, farm manager at Black Gold Farms, currently the largest grower-shipper in Louisiana with more than 2,600 acres of sweet potatoes.
About half of the potatoes produced at Black Gold are destined for the fresh market through retailers across the southeastern United States, O’Neal said, while the other half is shipped just 13 miles north of the farming operation to the Lamb Weston facility where they will be processed for sweet potato fries.
“All of this research helps improve the size, shape and yield of the sweet potato, which obviously benefits the processing industry but also the fresh market industry. And of course, we like to see this research reduce those input costs so the cost of production will go down,” said Michelle McHargue, Lamb Weston senior food scientist.
According to lsuagcenter.com¸ the field day drew more than 125 people, including international visitors from South Africa along with representatives from North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.