Sweet potatoes were once a common crop in Florida, but the sweet potato weevil put an end to the tuber in the 1980s. However, a handful of commercial farmers are taking a stab at the nutrient-laden tuber once again. With the help of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and Extension services, the sweet spud may be making a comeback as a lucrative cash crop for growers in The Sunshine State.

Advantages of Sweet Potatoes

There are currently a few commercial farmers in the Hastings, Florida, area trying various sweet potato varieties, according to a UF/IFAS release. Most of them are also potato farmers already. They grow table stock potatoes, or, even more likely, potatoes for potato chips—called chipping potatoes. The season for chipping potatoes and stock potatoes runs from January or February to May or June.

Sweet potatoes, however, are planted after table and chipping potatoes have been harvested. Growers are hoping to utilize the double cropping of chipping potatoes and sweet potatoes. This increases their land’s productivity, the diversity of their ag operations, and their incomes. In an added bonus, sweet potatoes grown in Florida would have the potential to be first to market over other states’ potatoes, allowing Florida’s sweet spuds to command high prices until potatoes from other states are ready.

 UF/IFAS Assistance

Since the sweet potato has not been grown in Florida for some time, UF/IFAS has no recommendations for growing conditions, like nutrient recommendations. What they are doing at this point in time is testing a variety of nutrient regimens, so that the most suitable varieties for Florida can be determined. They are also keeping an eye out for the sweet potato weevil. So far, the pest has not been detected.

Lastly, UF/IFAS researchers are also looking into other ways for Florida growers to enter the sweet potato market. Another major avenue is through ‘slips,’ the immature sweet potato plant that is raised in greenhouses and then sold to growers to transplant into the field. Right now, Florida has no one who is raising slips to sell to potential sweet potato growers in the state. However, UF/IFAS researchers already have sweet potato slips growing in their greenhouses, waiting for the green light on sweet potatoes in The Sunshine State.

Griffin Fertilizer is committed to helping both growers and ranchers make sound agronomic and economic decisions in order to maximize the health of their grove and pasture. As a full-service custom dry & liquid fertilizer blender and crop protection product distributor, we will continue our mission to further advance Florida agriculture. For questions or concerns about your farm or pasture, contact us and one of our team will be in touch.

Photo courtesy of miya.