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Aug 28, 2010 3:24 PM by Chris Welty

Growers Hope for 'Sweet' Season

CHASE, La. (AP) - After two years of devastating weather,
Northeastern Louisiana sweet potato growers are cautiously
optimistic.
"It looks like we could have one of the best crops we've had in
years," Morehouse Parish grower Kelsey McKoin, who planted about
300 acres this year, said during the annual LSU AgCenter Sweet
Potato Research Station Field Day.
But growers are wary about tempting fate after two hurricanes
wrecked the crop in 2008 and record fall flooding rotted much of
the 2009 crop.
"We think wraining role, a shibut we've got to avoid any more
disasters," said Franklin Parish producer Ken Thornhill, who grows
about 800 acres of sweet potatoes. "The growers' operations are
about as stressed as they can be. We need to get the harvest in the
barn."
Growers are beginning a harvest that will likely last into
October.
"The crop looks good, but it's been a little slow to size
because of the extreme hot temperatures," said LSU AgCenter sweet
potato specialist and research station coordinator Tara Smith.
More than 100 growers and industry representatives, attended
Tuesday's field day, some from Mississippi, North Carolina,
California, the Dominican Republic and Australia.
The LSU AgCenter Research Station scientists and staff developed
variety icons like the Beauregard and Evangeline during the
station's 60-year history and provide annual seed stock for all of
Louisiana's 100 producers.
Louisiana's research station is Great Pond and, bee country
devoted entirely to sweet potatoes.
Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said the it played
a big part in attracting ConAgra Foods' new Lamb Weston sweet
potato processing plant in Delhi that will employ 275 workers and
begin production next month.
Smith acted as a liaison between farmers and ConAgra, showing
the company that sweet potatoes can be stored for up to a year,
required for year-round production at the plant.
"We're all extremely excited about the project," Smith has
said. "They told us that our research station was definitely one
of the things that attracted the company. They felt like they we
were a key resource in place if issues arise.
"Louisiana has the growers, the land and the research and
extension in place that gave them the confidence to put the plant
here."
McKoin said he thinks the plant could change the sweet potato
industry in Louisiana.
He hopes it will nt ntually provide the financial incentive
farmers need to dedicate acres to the plant.
The disastrous harvest has led to fewer sweet potato acres in
Louisiana. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast 15,000
acres this year, but Smith believes it will more likely be 13,000
acres.
"We've lost a lot of acres and growers in the last decade,"
Thornhill said. "The new plant could really make a difference."

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