California sweet potatoes get a late start

July 15, 2011

Sweet potato lovers, take heart! Your little, nutrient-rich tubers are doing just fine.

After a slow start because of unusually wet weather, the crop, which thrives in warm, tropical climates, has begun to flourish again. [Merced Sun-Star]

Unseasonably wet weather brought the scourge of weeds, and delayed planting.

Merced County is the No. 1 sweet potato-producing county in the country, accounting for nearly 80 percent of California’s sweet potato crop.

The crop in the state is expected to be good this year, and although prices are down a bit at the moment, growers expect the price to pick up once harvest begins.

“Sweet potatoes are known as a health food, so we don’t use a lot of spraying,” said Nathan Mininger, an Atwater sweet potato grower in answer to the proliferation of weeds this season. “A good share of our weed control is the good old hula hoe.”

Mininger said every time his acreage was hoed to a weedless state this year, another growth of weeds would take over four or five days later.

The sweet potato is a tropical plant, so it doesn’t like the cooler weather, Mininger said. “The big heat spell did a good job of getting the plants caught up,” he said.

The nutritive value of sweet potatoes is very high. They are a good source of complex carbohydrates; of calcium, iron, and other minerals; and of vitamins, especially vitamin A and beta-carotene.

In 2009, more than 16,000 acres of sweet potatoes were grown in the county, and their value was almost $172,000,000, according to the Merced County agricultural commissioner’s office.

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Fresh sweet potato fries……Yumm…