The UF/IFAS Hastings Agriculture Extension Center (HAEC) kicked off their potato harvest this past Saturday (April 27th) with approximately 70 excited 4-H students and parents at the 4-H Potato Field Harvest Day. Scott Chambers, Hastings Farm Manager, said this was the most plentiful harvest the 4-H plots have yielded since the inception of the 4-H Potato Field Day five years ago. We harvested 14,000 lbs from 0.32 acres, which equates to 438 hundredweight per acre. Potatoes are measured in hundredweight (cwt) and 1 cwt equals 100 lbs of potatoes. According to the 2018 USDA State Agriculture Overview, the typical harvest yields for potatoes in Florida is 265 cwt per acre. The numbers from Saturday are preliminary, but if it’s any indication of how the potatoes are sizing up in Hastings, it’s going to be a lucrative year for our local potato growers. According the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, Florida is growing less potatoes than in the past (30,378 harvested acres in 2017 compared to 35,251 in 2012). However, the market for Florida potatoes will be particularly hot this season because of the destruction and devastation of farmlands caused by historic flooding in the Midwest.
The UF/IFAS HAEC has approximately 20 different potato trials that will be harvested in the next six weeks. We are researching a litany of different aspects of this crop including specialty varieties, variable spacing (6”, 8”, 10” and 12”trials), new pesticides (particularly nematicides), herbicide trials, different fertilizer application rates, and much more. Results from these trials are disseminated to local growers during our annual potato field days (which most recently occurred on April 11, 2019). The role of the HAEC is to serve our local growers and help them to excel in their farming ambitions whether it’s growing potatoes or experimenting with an alternative crop such as artichokes or sweet potatoes.
Dr. Wendy Mussoline (UF/IFAS Agriculture Extension Agent for Flagler & Putnam Counties) participated in the 4-H Potato Field Day teaching kids the differences between potatoes and sweet potatoes. Potatoes are in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and prefer the cold weather, while sweet potatoes are in the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae) and prefer hot weather. Potatoes are planted using seed potatoes and they produce “stem” tubers, while sweet potatoes are planted using vine slips and they produce “root” tubers. All the 4-H participants planted their own sweet potato slips and selected either orange-flesh varieties including Covington, Hernandez or Burgundy or white-flesh varieties including Palmetto Gold or New Boniato. Many of the kids came back to grab extra slips at the end of the day so they could start their own sweet potato gardens at home.
This is an educational, hands-on, interactive event where kids really get to touch and feel the life of a farmer. The grading line is always a big hit as the kids get to remove any culls and bag the potatoes for their individual clubs and use them as fundraisers or share them with the needy. The best part of the experience is getting to enjoy the fruit of their labor and feasting on fresh French fries prepared straight from the field. There’s nothing better, except maybe sweet potato fries!