Mississippi sweet potato growers face various challenges

Although this year’s sweet potato harvest in the state of Mississippi is ramping up, initial reports indicate an average yield for 2020. The variability in expected yield -from field to field- can be attributed to location and soil moisture.

Mark Shankle, a researcher and professor with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at the Pontotoc Ridge-Flatwoods Branch Experiment Station: “Some fields benefited from timely rains, while others either received not enough or too much.”

Trent Barnett is an agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Calhoun County, where about a third of the state’s crop is planted. For the last five years, the state’s total sweet potato acreage has hovered between 27,000 and 30,000 acres.

Farmprogress.com quoted Barnett as saying: “I would say a good estimate for Calhoun County acreage would be 9,000 to 10,000 acres. I am excited about what I have seen of the sweet potato crop at this time, but we are still early in the season.”

Roughly one-fifth of this year’s planting had been harvested as of Sept. 21, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. So far, 64% was graded in fair condition, with 26% rated good.

Extension agricultural economist Alba Collart said growers have to take extra steps to protect the health of their workers, including social distancing: “As the harvest season begins, farmers face uncertainty regarding how COVID-19 will impact the availability of workers and how to handle and prevent COVID-19 cases in their farms and communities.”

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