With 66,000 tonnes of sweet potatoes coming from the U.S. annually, there are plenty of opportunities for local sweet potato production in Canada. Sweet potato consumption in Canada has doubled over the past 10 years, presenting a remarkable growth opportunity for Canadian horticulture. Approximately 80 per cent of the consumption comes from importing 66,000 tonnes annually from the U.S.
Almost all Canadian sweet potato production occurs in Ontario, which accounts for approximately 2,000 acres. In the past few years, production has expanded to new provinces, including Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. So far, growth in production has been limited by the lack of adapted varieties to our short growing season and limited access to propagative material.
To address this opportunity, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) collaborated with Louisiana State University to develop a new high-yielding, Canadian climate-adapted variety with desirable consumer characteristics called Radiance.
However, the success of this new sweet potato variety is contingent on growers’ abilities to access propagative material since sweet potatoes are vegetatively propagated through unrooted vine cuttings known as slips. Slips are 20 to 30 cm in length and are produced by planting a mature sweet potato referred to as sweet potato root seed.
Currently, the majority of sweet potato slips are produced in the southern U.S as climatic conditions are conducive to outdoor production in early spring. This method is not appropriate for Canadian slip production since outdoor temperatures are too low to support the growth of slips in the March to May timeframe during which slips are produced.
As a result, Canadian sweet potato growers typically obtain their planting material from North Carolina in late May to early June, once soil temperatures are high enough to promote growth from slips. The supplied slips are specific varieties developed by Louisiana State University and North Carolina State University breeding programs tailored to the U.S. market and their growing seasons.