STARKVILLE, Miss. (WJTV) – Several sweet potato growers in Mississippi said the quality of this year’s crop is the best they’ve seen in 20 years.

Lorin Harvey, a sweet potato specialist with the Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension Service, said he expects this year’s total acreage to be around 28,500. The amount is slightly less than what he expected before dry, hot conditions left very little moisture for potatoes that were transplanted after May.

Transplanting started in May with good conditions, but growers saw a 30-day period starting in early June with temperatures between 90° and 100° and no meaningful rainfall. The dry spell greatly impacted sweet potato stands in fields that were transplanted when soil surface temperatures reached 160°.

“The early-transplanted crop looks great, but the same can’t be said for later transplanted material, which suffered from severe heat stress and lack of moisture,” he said.

Yield is measured in bushels per acre of potatoes. The three-year average from 2018 to 2020 was about 440 bushels per acre, with 260 bushels per acre meeting enough standards in quality to be labeled U.S. No. 1. Harvey said the statewide average this year could be closer to 500 bushels per acre, with 275 bushels per acre graded No. 1.

Mississippi ranks second behind North Carolina in national sweet potato production. Calhoun and Chickasaw counties are responsible for a majority of the crop. Production also takes place in Humphreys, Montgomery, Panola, Pontotoc, Tallahatchie, Tate, Webster and Yalobusha counties.

“These two counties have a loamy soil type that is very conducive to growing quality sweet potatoes: good nutrient supply, root growth isn’t restricted, decent water holding capacity. It’s also where most of the infrastructure has been established,” said Harvey.