Developing low-cost sustainable sweet potato production strategies to facilitate adoption in the mid-south

2009 Annual Report for LS09-215

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $185,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Mississippi
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Ramon Arancibia
University of Missouri Extension

Developing low-cost sustainable sweet potato production strategies to facilitate adoption in the mid-south


On-farm experiments with Brassica cover crops have been set up at participating grower sites. Cover crops were planted late last fall due to excessive rain and growth has been suboptimal. Additional trials are being planted in the spring. Pests and beneficial insects will be monitored during the season. In a no-till experiment, sweetpotato yield and quality was reduced. Two factors might be responsible for this result: 1) no-till ground was flat instead of elevated rows which may have reduced oxygen necessary for storage root growth; 2) no-till ground had higher penetrating resistance (compaction) and less available water.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1. Evaluate sustainable ground management strategies to improve sweetpotato production in a sustainable production system.
Sweetpotato production under no-till conditions was evaluated in 2009 following wheat as winter cover crop. Sweetpotato slips were hand planted directly in the opening left by a shank-coulter implement design for no-till vegetable transplanting. Plant stand was similar to tilled ground, but sweetpotato yield and quality was reduced. Two factors might be responsible for this result: 1) no-till ground was flat instead of raised rows which may have reduced oxygen necessary for storage root initiation and growth; 2) no-till ground had higher penetrating resistance (compaction). A trial to test no-till planting on raised beds after winter cover crops is in progress. In addition, the use of small storage roots, usually left in the ground after harvest, for direct planting will be investigated to reduce planting costs.

2. Develop sweetpotato planting strategies including planting method and type of planting material to increase production efficiency and reduce costs.
In Mississippi, cover crops were planted at three locations late in the fall of 2009 because of unusual rainy/wet condition that delayed planting into November. Growth has been minimal during the winter. In Arkansas and two locations in Mississippi, cover crop planting was delayed until spring because of wet conditions. Soil samples for fertility and nematode evaluation were taken in the fall and will be taken again after cover crop incorporation and at storage root initiation (30 DAP). Pest and beneficial insects will be evaluated one week before cover crop incorporation and during sweetpotato production. Soil moisture will be monitored with data-loggers and soil compaction will be measured at planting and during the season. Similarly, yield and quality will be evaluated.

3. Promote adoption of sustainable sweetpotato production systems through farmer participation in on-farm research and demonstrations trials, workshops and publications.
Investigators in Mississippi and Arkansas have met with participating growers individually to discuss project expectations and plans for on-farm experiments. Experimental sites have been selected, plots mapped out and planted in 4 locations. Workshops in Mississippi and Arkansas are being planned for the spring, when cover crops are to be incorporated, to discuss sustainable sweetpotato production. A tour to the on-farm trials will be included.


1. Met with participating farmers (4 in MS and 4 in AR) individually to discuss on-farm trials and expectations.
2. Conducted two research trials at the NMREC-Pontotoc,MS, to evaluate no-till production and direct planting of small roots.
3. Initiated station and 4 on-farm research and demonstration trials in Mississippi with cover crops planted in the fall 2009 and spring 2010.

Up coming
1. Continue with in-station and on-farm research and demonstration trials on cover crops with participating farmers.
2. In Arkansas, initiate on-farm trials as soon as weather permits.
3. Conduct workshop in both states to discuss sustainable sweet potato production prior to cover crop incorporation. The workshop will include a tour to the on-farm research sites.
4. Initiate studies on no-till with raised hills after cover crop and depth of direct planting of root pieces/segments.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

This project will develop sustainable and cost efficient sweetpotato planting strategies adapted to the region and will increase the level and availability of information about successful sustainable sweetpotato production systems. Incorporating cover crops into a sweetpotato production system is expected to improve soil fertility, reduce pest pressure and pesticide use, increase land use efficiency and reduce costs. Also, reduced tillage and direct planting of root pieces/segments are expected to decrease planting costs.
Since most of the sweetpotato production is conventional in the southeastern U.S., this project will also provide an opportunity for farmers to experience the benefits of sustainable practices through on-farm research and demonstration trials. In addition, a participating organic farmer in Mississippi is providing the opportunity for other farmers to visit and learn from his 100 acres organic sweetpotato production system. Similarly, there is a participating farmer in transition to organic production in Arkansas that will provide opportunity to learn in that area. Therefore, this project will promote adoption of sustainable production practices that will have a positive impact in the region’s sustainability, in particular small and medium scale farmers of limited resources.


Obadiah Njue
Extension Horticulture Specialist
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
1200 N University Drive
Pine Bluff, AR 71601
Office Phone: 8705758152
Mark Shankle
Associate Research Professor
Mississippi State University
8320 Highway 15 South
Pontotoc, MS 38863
Office Phone: 6624894621
William Burdine
Area Extension Agronomist
Mississippi State University
415 Lee Horn Dr., Suite 4
Houston, MS 38851
Office Phone: 6624564269
Fred Musser
Assistant Professor
Mississippi State University
Clay-Lyle Complex, Rm 127
Mississippi State, MS 39762
Office Phone: 6623252974