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If Rain Holds, Sweet ‘Tater’ Crop Looks Promising

A sweet potato harvester carrying four bins of number one potatoes and two bins of seed potatoes is quickly unloaded and the bins replaced with empties. Workers move fast to get as many of the crop harvested as possible between showers. – Photo by Jack Gurner

Workers sort sweet potatoes into bins in a field about a mile west of Water Valley on Hwy 32. – Photo by Jack Gurner

Recent rains have turned some parts of this field on Hwy. 32 west into a muddy mess. But, the harvest must go on. – Photo by Jack Gurner

The sweet potatoes are sorted by workers on the harvester and placed into bins. In the foreground are seed potatoes while other bins hold number one potatoes, the type shoppers will be seeing in grocery stores.

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – The sweet potato crop in Yalobusha County is expected to be better than average this year with producers expecting yields above 400 bushels per acre.

“This year seems to be doing better than a lot of other years. Above average in other words. We’ve had rain whenever we’ve needed it,” said Bill Alexander as he watched harvesting operations Sunday morning.

“What we concerned about most of all right now is getting them out with all this weather,” said Alexander, a Calhoun County farmer who has been in the business for 48 years.

He sat in his truck at the edge of a field on Hwy. 32 about a mile west of Water Valley. The field is part of 150 acres leased by his son, Gene.

The soil in the area is a good compromise for raising potatoes. “On more clay soil you’ll have a sweeter, juicer ‘tater than you would on real sandy soil,” the older Alexander said. “This land has some clay in it, but it has enough sand to make it work real good.”

Yalobusha farmer Ross Burney is also looking at a good crop from his 150 acres located between Coffeeville and Oakland. Burney was expecting to begin harvesting Tuesday morning “if it doesn’t rain.”

“We’re looking at a good crop,” he said, “a 400 bushel yield if we can get them out.”

This is the fourth year for Burney, who said that he started small with just a few acres. “ I was trying something a little different,” he said. “Diversifying my operation.”

Both growers have number one sweet potatoes, which are the type seen in grocery stores and restaurants. “They’re the pretty potato,” Burney said.

Burney is also producing “canners,” smaller potatoes that end up packaged for the canned goods section in the stores.

As the sweet potatoes are harvested, Burney trucks his for storage at Vardaman while the Alexanders truck theirs to Bruce.

“We’ll put them in storage and cure them out,” Alexander said. “It takes about six weeks to dry them down. The sugar content comes out in the potato and it eats better when it is cured out.”

Mississippi sweet potatoes contribute $82 million dollars to the economy of the state, according to the MSU Extension Service. Presently, approximately 160 Mississippi farmers grow sweet potatoes.

Yalobusha, with 583.4 acres reported to the FSA, is in the top five sweet potato producing counties in Mississippi along with Calhoun , Chickasaw, Pontotoc, and Panola.

 The National Sweet Potato Festival is held the entire first week of November in Vardaman, which proclaims itself as “The Sweet Potato Capital.”

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