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Women in Ag: Why Are Sweet Potato Beds Under Water?

Mother Nature dropped up to 10 inches of rain over parts of our state within a 36-hour period this week, causing creeks and rivers to overflow their banks. Many houses and fields along those waterways are now under water.

Sweet potatoes have been bedded in the field since the end of March. Every year, farmers bed “seed” sweet potatoes in the field. The seed potatoes will sprout, and those sprouts, or slips, will be cut and transplanted to the field in May and June. The sweet potatoes grown from those slips are harvested in the fall.  

The beds are often cut twice. One acre of beds will produce enough sprouts to plant approximately 40 acres of harvestable sweet potatoes. 

These photos tell part of the story. The two red circles highlight irrigation reels in the field that, along with the sweet potato beds, have been under water since Monday.

Irrigation Reels Under Water

Here’s a look at fields from the air. There are sweet potato beds under all the water.

Sweet Potato Beds under water

What can farmers in this situation do? 

  1. Rebed.

If the weather forecast for the next week holds and we don’t get any more rain, farmers could possibly get in the field to rebed the land next week. One challenge is there aren’t any seed potatoes left, so farmers will need to bed number ones. These are larger potatoes that are usually sold fresh (what you buy at the grocery store).  A number one won’t produce as many sprouts, and you can only cut that bed once. Instead of getting 40 acres of plants, they only average 15 acres.

       2.  Buy slips from other farmers.

Not only will the farmer incur the loss of investment in their own beds, they will have the expense of buying slips someone else has grown.

Speaking of investment loss, it’s important to realize most insurance policies do not cover bedded sweet potatoes. 

It’s too soon to know the impact these rains will have on this year’s crop. The damage doesn’t seem to be widespread, but for those farmers impacted, it’s another challenge Mother Nature has dealt them early in the growing season.

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