The sweet potato has become increasingly popular in recent years, as the world’s population becomes infatuated with their health.
Sweet potatoes have witnessed increases in production of over 100% over the past 5 years. The sweet potato is known to offer many health benefits, being a source of fiber ( when eaten with skin on), vitamins E and C, potassium, iron, vitamin B-6 and they are also high in Beta Carotene.
But what of the sweet potato? Where do they come from? How much are they worth? And can they be grown in Ireland?
The Sweet Potato and where it comes from:
The origin of the sweet potato is thought to be in either Central America or South America. In Central America, sweet potatoes were domesticated over 5,000 years ago, while in South America, Peruvian sweet potato dates as far back as 8000 BC.
Sweet potatoes are grown in many regions across the planet. The sweet potatoes mainly sold in Ireland are imported from the US. These potatoes can be identified from the orange colour of their flesh. The main sweet potato producing states in America are North Carolina and California, who take up 70% of the market share.
Other European countries who export sweet potatoes include Spain and Portugal, two of Europe’s main exporters. Netherlands also take up a share of the market at 28,000 tonnes per year, with the UK exporting over 8,000 tonnes. Meanwhile some of the world’s other top producers include China, Honduras, Nigeria, Tanzania,Israel and Egypt. These sweet potato producers, produce potatoes which have red skin and white flesh.
Sweet potato productions exceeded 100million tonnes in 2014, though only 50% was used for human consumption. The remaining half was used for animal feed and seed conservation.
China are the world’s largest producer of the crop, having produced over 70 million tonnes in 2014, a number which has steadily risen in recent years. Nigeria and Tanzania remain the second largest producers of the crop.
How much are they worth?
Sweet potatoes have become increasingly popular in recent years, which has led to an increased trend in prices paid.
In 2014, in the US, prices averaged at €19.87 per hundred weight of the crop ($23,6). This has no increased to €49.53/ cwt, meaning prices have over doubled in three years.
The average yield has also increased, up from 127 cwt/ac to 203 cwt/ac. This is tied with an increase in consumption as in the UK for example, with increases from 40,000 tonnes in 2014 to 78,000 tonnes last year.
In 2015 the global revenue from sweet potato sales reached €82,873 million ($98,416m), up 5.4% from the previous year. A quarter of an acre of sweet potatoes is enough to supply a family of four for a whole year, provided weather conditions don’t affect yields.
How to grow them/Can they be grown in Ireland:
Every fancied growing your own? Continue reading for information on what the crop needs to grow successfully in Ireland.
Yes the sweet potato, like its Irish relative, can be grown successfully in our country. It works best in a well drained, not too rich soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.2. All they require is warm, moist soil in order to grow vibrantly. They are well suited to sandy soils due to their good drainage. Good root development is vital for the potato to grow, so heavy, clay soils should be avoided.
Like the Irish Spud the Sweet potato is planted on ridges. Before planting make sure to mix the top layer of the soil with compost to dampen the bed. Each shoot should be planted about 12 to 18 inches apart with 3 feet between each 10 inch ridge. This is to allow vines plenty of space and light to grow. Once your crop has the necessary water supply, and warm moist conditions it should be good to grow.
It won’t be long until they begin to grow rather rapidly. The rows should be weeded two weeks after planting, without disturbing the roots of the potato. Water your crop weekly, as over watering will lead to wilting and under watering to the crops failure to grow.
Sweet potatoes are known to grow in poor soils, but also thrive with minimal fertilizers. Fertilizer should be spread on the crop, in small amounts, two weeks after planting. A balance of organic and timed release fertilizers containing potassium are preferred. Continued weeding and fertilizing should be completed for another month, over 6 weeks after planting. After this, providing they have access to enough water, the crop should grow successfully.
The can also be grown in plant pots or inside in a greenhouse, should you not have the required soil space. They are a really durable crop, making it probably harder to not grow them successfully. They mature in a period between 90-170 days after planting. This can be judged by inspecting some samples of the crop. They should only be planted 4 weeks after the last frost, as they are very sensitive to colder conditions.
Keep a firm eye on the crop for signs of disease and signs of malnutrition. It is vital, for your plant, that these signs are spotted immediately to prevent the spreading of disease to other crops and to prevent your crop from dying. In areas of hig rainfall, it is vital to ensure your crop has the correct drainage.
Begin harvesting your beautiful sweet potatoes once the leaves of the vines have started to turn yellow, though the longer you leave them in the soil the higher the yield and vitamin content. Don’t though leave them too long, as it leaves them more susceptible to disease.
Once harvested dry your tubers (potatoes) in the sun for several hours, this is the curing process. Once cured they should be stored at approximately 12 degrees celsius, with humidity levels of between 75-80%. This will help your sweet potatoes stay good for many months,.
There you have it, the humble spud is fast being replaced with it’s exotic cousin. Could we be about so see an increased spate of sweet potato planting in Ireland?Who knows!