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Sweet potato harvest under way, going slow

ETTRICK—Fresh sweet potatoes are showing up at Virginia farmers’ markets and local food outlets, but it’s too soon to tell whether some Virginia growers will have a good year, according to Clifton Slade, Virginia Cooperative Extension vegetable and produce specialist for the Small Farm Outreach Program at Virginia State University.

“It’s spotty so far,” Slade said. “Right now we’ve got some people that set out their potatoes in early to mid-May. They’ve got a decent crop. But the people that set out in June, it’s disappointing right now.

“We’ve dug down, and some of them are no bigger than carrots right now. So some of the crop is delayed.”

This year’s extremely wet spring meant growers had no moisture shortages to worry about during planting season. But August turned dry, and that has slowed development of the later-planted crop, Slade explained.

“This time of year, if your vines still look good, that’s a bad sign because you don’t have any fruit pulling nutrients from the vine,” he said. “But in Southeast Virginia, they’ll probably do well.”

That doesn’t mean Virginia farmers won’t ultimately have a good sweet potato crop, he said. Sweet potatoes can be harvested until frost, so growers in the southeast and south-central parts of the state still have weeks to go. Growers in the northern and western parts of Virginia have more to worry about.

Most sweet potatoes raised in Virginia are sold directly to the public or to local food outlets, Slade said. Yields so far for the early plantings are good.

“I’m hearing growers say they’re getting between 350 and 400 boxes per acre. That’s a 40-pound box,” he said. “An excellent yield is 500 boxes per acre, but that’s rare.” Grower prices are averaging $20 to $25 per box, he added.

While not a large part of Virginia’s farm economy, sweet potatoes brought in $347,000 in cash receipts to Virginia growers in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Media: Contact Slade at 804-892-4559 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.
Posted in: Potatoes


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