Sweetpotato Production and Variety Performance in Southeast Virginia, 2015-2016
“Sweetpotato” (Ipomoea batatas) is a tropical crop widely grown throughout the world with China being the largest producer. It is a member of the morning glory family, originating in South America. In the United States, it is grown as an annual crop for its enlarged storage roots, which are a good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates. In general, there are two main groups of sweetpotatoes: those with orange flesh (moist when baked) and those with white flesh (dry when baked). Although orange varieties are referred to as yams for marketing purposes, sweetpotato is not a true yam, which is a tropical plant from a different botanical family (Dioscorea spp.), grown for its tubers. Some Diascorea species are found in the wild and backyards in Southern states (including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia), but they are not known as a commercial crop in the continental U.S.
The American Society for Horticultural Science has adopted the use of “sweetpotato” as one word to clearly distinguish it from the potato (Solanum tuberosum).
Sweetpotato is an important crop for small and medium size vegetable farmers in Virginia. Although the 2012 Census of Agriculture indicates that Virginia farmers grew just 136 acres of sweetpotato in 2012 (U.S. Department of Agriculture-NASS, 2014), in the 1960s, Virginia raised 15,000 to 19,000 acres of sweetpotatoes with a market value of $5 million to $8 million for the state (U.S. Department of Agriculture- NASS, 2011a). Therefore, the acreage and production of sweetpotato in Virginia could increase significantly. In fact, demand and per capita consumption are increasing — by 46 percent in the last decade (U.S. Department of Agriculture-NASS 2011b) — mainly due to the perceived nutritional and health attributes of sweetpotatoes, and the availability and convenience of value-added processed products made from sweetpotatoes.
Sweetpotato breeders are continually developing and testing new varieties to overcome production challenges and improve the sustainability of the industry. The National Sweetpotato Collaborator Group (NSCG) conducts annual state and regional trials to evaluate the performance of advance breeding lines compared with current commercial varieties. Results of these state trials are reviewed at the NSCG 2 www.ext.vt.edu annual meeting and included in the NSCG Annual Report. Farmers in Virginia are already growing some of the newest sweetpotato varieties, but there is no information on performance in Virginia.
The objective of this study was to determine the performance of current and recently released sweetpotato varieties through an on-farm survey in southeast Virginia as well as in the NSCG replicated variety trials conducted in 2015 and 2016 at the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC). This information will assist Extension personnel, service providers, and farmers in decisions bout sweetpotato varieties in Virginia. Below, there are links to find additional information on current commercial varieties.