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Louisiana’s sweet potatoes escape freeze, safe in storage

The mission of the Baton Rouge, LA-based Louisiana Sweet Potato Advertising & Marketing Commission is to promote the consumption of sweet potatoes, in particular Louisiana sweet potatoes, by educating consumers on the many nutritional attributes and amazing versatility in popular and delicious recipes. 

That mission is overseen by René Simon, executive director. He also serves as the director of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry.

Simon explained that despite some growers going through ups and downs during harvest, the statewide 2017-18 sweet potato crop is overall in average condition.

28Simon was still thawing out from the freeze of the week of Jan. 15 when he spoke to The Produce News, stressing that it’s a very good thing that the sweet potatoes were safe and sound in storage.

“The week was the coldest on record since 1989,” said Simon. “Everything froze over on Tuesday, Jan. 16, and nothing was moving from then until this [Friday] morning. Offices and schools were closed, traffic came to a halt and everyone stayed inside. Our office reopened this morning, but some parishes are still closed. Things should be back to normal on Monday.”

He noted that the freeze may have damaged some strawberries, which are basically the only commercial crop growing this time of year. Citrus harvest in Louisiana ended some time ago, but the freeze may have caused some damage to the trees.

As for sweet potatoes, Simon noted that some farmers had a good crop with good weather conditions during harvest, while others were not as fortunate.

“Some of our growers got hit with a lot of moisture during harvesting from the hurricanes that passed up the East Coast last fall,” he explained. “These events made for a very wet harvest for some. We ended up with an average crop. The stored crop is in good condition. Our movement will end in June, with perhaps a few growers lasting into July.”

Simon also said that a couple of new growers have gotten into the sweet potato business in Louisiana — especially in the northern part of the state.

“Our statewide acreage is stable at about 10,000 acres,” he said. “It’s been about the same for the past couple of years, and established growers are saying they’ll be planting about the same for the next crop. With the new growers who have come in, we’re anticipating, and hoping for a little rise in this number for the 2018-19 crop.”

Major sweet potato processors have been a boon to Louisiana sweet potato growers in recent years.

The Lamb Weston French fry plant in Delhi, LA, was previously under Conagra control. On Nov. 9, 2016, Conagra completed the spin-off of Lamb Weston Holdings Inc.

“This facility continues to be a big supporter to our growers,” said Simon.

“We have no notable insect or disease issues in the state,” he continued. “The weather is always our biggest problem. If we could have some favorable weather during harvest season it would help our growers considerably. We just need cooperation from Mother Nature.”

Simon was getting ready to head to the 55th Annual Convention of the U.S. Sweet Potato Council, which was set to begin Jan. 22.

“We’re very excited to report that the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission is hosting this annual event in 2019,” stressed Simon. “It will be held in New Orleans on January 20-23, 2019, at the Royal Sonesta New Orleans on Bourbon Street. The meeting is always well attended when we host it because everyone loves New Orleans.”

More information about the U.S. Sweet Potato Council Annual Meeting, and the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission, can be found at www.sweetpotato.org and www.sweetpotatousa.org.