Learn how Mississippi sweet potatoes are grown, harvested and sold:
1: GROWING SEASON
Sweet potatoes are a hardy crop that thrive even in poor soils. Sweet potatoes are planted from slips, or root sprouts. Slips can be purchased through suppliers or saved from a previous crop. Slips are planted in ridged beds 10 inches high, 48 inches apart. These warm-weather tubers sprout a beautiful flowering vine that signals the maturity of the plant.
After 90 days of maturation, sweet potatoes are ready to be harvested using harvesting equipment or being dug by hand. Mississippi-grown sweet potatoes are harvested in the fall before frost, to ensure their storing ability. After harvest, the tubers are graded based on traits such as size, cleanliness, shape, internal breakdown, scars, growths, harvest damage or diseases.
After harvesting, sweet potatoes must be “cured” to bring out their sweet taste, set the skin and heal any wounds caused during harvest. This process involves exposing the sweet potatoes to 80 to 85 degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity. Curing takes approximately 10 days, after which the sweet potatoes can be stored at 60 degrees and 90 percent humidity for up to a year.
4: PACKING AND SHIPPING
Once the sweet potatoes have been cured and graded, they are commonly packaged in boxes and made ready to ship. Mississippi sweet potatoes are transported by truck or boat to buying points throughout the region and across the country.
Sweet potatoes are sold to processing plants, cooperatives, farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) and grocery wholesalers. These delicious roots are enjoyed in numerous forms, such as fries, tater tots, puree or whole. Due to recent popularity, Mississippi restaurants and school cafeterias feature sweet potatoes as a tasty alternative to traditional potato products.