Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
Four students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) recently completed internships with the UAPB Sweetpotato Foundation Seed Program. As interns, Chasity Brown, a senior agriculture business major, Danielle Williams and Jasmine James, junior agriculture business majors, and Raven Burnett, a senior animal science major, assisted UAPB researchers in the development and multiplication of virus-indexed sweet potato slips for use in the production of high-quality sweetpotato seed stock.
The students’ responsibilities included watering, fertilizing and making cuttings of the sweetpotato plants in UAPB greenhouses and planting the cuttings in high tunnels for further multiplication. They learned how to manage a controlled environment conducive to the growth of sweetpotato plants and assisted in the production of about 63,000 cuttings (slips).
“This program provided an opportunity for our agriculture students to experience the practical aspects of concepts taught in the classroom,” Shaun Francis, Extension horticulture specialist for UAPB, said. “They observed the symptoms of certain nutrient deficiencies in the plants, as well as the effects of over-fertilizing. They were then responsible for tailoring their fertilizer regimen to correct these issues.”
The interns saw firsthand how plants reacted to insufficient light or excess heat in the high tunnels. They had to regularly monitor the temperatures in the greenhouse and high tunnels and make adjustments when necessary. They also checked for incidence of pests or symptoms of stress in the plants, particularly after cuttings were made.
They learned how to plant sweetpotato slips both by hand and mechanically at UAPB farms on campus and at Lonoke, Arkansas. They also practiced grading sweetpotatoes using a handheld sweetpotato grader.
During a UAPB youth enrichment summer camp, they taught local children, ages 6 to 11, how to plant their own flower or tomato plants.
The UAPB Sweetpotato Foundation Seed Program features a state-of-the-art biotechnology lab that allows UAPB researchers to develop and multiply virus-indexed sweet potato slips for use in the production of high-quality seed potatoes. In 2014, UAPB was designated as one of six universities that make up the National Clean Plant Network for Sweetpotatoes, an organization supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that promotes the use of pathogen-tested, healthy planting materials for food crops in the U.S.