Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
A Pine Bluff farmer said he was surprised by the amount of quality sweet potatoes in his field this season. Ester Doolittle, owner of D&S Produce in Pine Bluff, said the increase in yield and consistency was a result of the First Generation (G1) Beauregard sweet potatoes he bought from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) Sweet Potato Foundation Program.
“The quality of these sweet potatoes is so different from previous harvests,” Doolittle said. “They have a consistent color and uniform size, and they taste great.”
The G1 seed potatoes Doolittle purchased from UAPB were grown as part of an intensive effort by the Sweet Potato Foundation Program to produce high quality, virus-indexed slips, which are the sets of plant cuttings that the potatoes grow from.
“Sweet potatoes are susceptible to viruses and natural mutations that accumulate with each planting cycle,” Dr. Obadiah Njue, chair of the Department of Agriculture, said. “As farmers plant and replant sweet potatoes from season to season, the quality of the plant declines. This ultimately affects yield and quality, as the plant accumulates the viruses over growing seasons.”
Farmers are not advised to cut and plant the sweet potato slips beyond generation three (G3) seed potatoes, Dr. Njue said. However, the cost of high-quality slips has been a major constraint in sweet potato production in Arkansas. For decades, farmers have relied on out of state sources for their slips and have seen their profit margins significantly reduced, planting time compromised and quality of slips deteriorate.
“In the past, Arkansas farmers have had to buy their sweet potatoes from states such as Louisiana or Mississippi,” Dr. Njue said. “The Sweet Potato Foundation Program provides Arkansas producers an opportunity to buy high-quality sweet potato growing materials in state.”
Producers can call the UAPB Department of Agriculture at 870-575-8535 to check on the availability of seed potatoes. The price for a 50-pound bushel of G1 virus-indexed sweet potatoes is $15. Supply is usually limited and is on a first-come, first-served basis.