What makes a sweet potato a sweet potato?
Arthur Villordon has spent his career trying to answer this question. Many factors — from water to nutrients to planting material — play a role in the process of growing a sweet potato that people will enjoy eating.
But the fact that the crop grows underground makes it difficult to understand how exactly each of those factors influence sweet potato development and quality.
“What switches on a root from being just a plain root to a sweet potato? Despite all the research that has been done, we just don’t know that critical switch,” said Villordon, a professor at the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase. “My focus is to look at variables that growers can manipulate — water, fertilizer — because it won’t mean anything if we find that switch and then a grower can’t turn it on or off.”
Doing things like installing irrigation systems or optimizing the amountof fertilizer applied to fields can help producers grow a better crop, Villordon said.
“Our growers would like to have consistent yields every year so that they can sell their crop at a good price, and that will ensure their sustainability,” he said.
Sweet potatoes are an important crop in Louisiana and around the world.In many countries, Villordon said, they are a staple that people depend on as a source of carbohydrates.
“Whatever we find out here, whatever knowledge we gain, it’s not only beneficial to our state, to our growers in the state, but globally as well,” he said.
Arthur Villordon, a professor at the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station, talks about his work during a field day. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture