Baton Rouge, La. – Hot, dry weather in Louisiana has compromised the size of the sweet potato crop leading into the fall and winter seasons.
Louisiana is among the top four states in the nation that produces sweet potatoes.
However, recent drought conditions have deprived the soil in the Pelican State of much-needed moisture, leading to a much smaller harvest of the root vegetable.
"We've had no rainfall here in the last two months," said sweet potato farmer Larry Fontenot.
Fontenot’s sweet potato farm is currently dusty from the lack of soil moisture, and his warehouse is half-empty when it would usually be full of sweet potatoes.
According to LSU AgCenter research coordinator Tara Smith, the subterranean nature of sweet potatoes is what makes them particularly susceptible to adverse weather and varying environmental conditions.
To help farmers combat these high-impact variables, researchers from Louisiana State University run a breeding program to find the most resilient seeds.
"There's a lot of value in what we do," said Don Labonte, professor at the LSU AgCenter. "It's a lot of work because we go through tens of thousands [of seeds] before we find that one magic wand that has the right touch."
Researchers say the breeding program can take about seven years to find a new sweet potato variety.