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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Woodbury

University of Arkansas Continues to Meet Expansion of Sweetpotato Industry

Dr. Ponniah with virus-indexed clean sweetpotato plants in the insect-free greenhouse at UAPB farm.

In Arkansas, sweetpotato production has been growing steadily, increasing in production from 3,000 acres in 2009 to 5,200 acres in 2023. This growth is seen primarily in the Mississippi Delta in the eastern region of the state. Sweetpotato is an economically important crop for small-scale and limited-resource farmers in Arkansas. Production in Arkansas is primarily for fresh market and processing. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) initiated the Sweet Potato Foundation Seed Program with financial assistance from the state and USDA in 2010. This gave the program the necessary startup funding needed to meet the needs for clean plants in Arkansas. UAPB is one of the six National Clean Plant Centers for sweetpotatoes and is involved in testing and producing virus-tested clean plants.

The NCPN-SP Tier 2 meeting was conducted at UAPB in 2023. NCPN Center directors and staff are pictured here with Dr. Njue, Assistant Dean for extension, and a graduate student, Shermaine Critchlow (far left).

Predominant cultivars grown in Arkansas are Orleans and Beauregard-B14. These varieties, obtained from Louisiana State University, are maintained as virus-indexed tissue culture plants. At UAPB, sweetpotato virus-tested clean plants are multiplied in the Biotechnology Lab. The clean plants are further multiplied in an insect-free greenhouse on campus. The greenhouse plants are further tested to preclude reinfection before they are transferred to a hoop house, where they are multiplied further. UAPB follows the recommended sweetpotato virus-testing protocols developed at the 2015 Beltsville, Maryland workshop. They thoroughly test and ensure that all entries subjected to therapy are free from known viruses. Additionally, UAPB shares data with other Centers on virus detection from direct tests on sweetpotatoes using the biological indicator, Ipomoea setosa. This data is used to

Multiplication of virus-indexed clean plants in the hoop house. UAPB’s undergraduate students are helping with multiplication.

continually reassess the virus testing protocols. UAPB’s annual target is to produce 50,000 to 100,000 virus-tested clean plants for sweetpotato producers in Arkansas, which are used by approximately 20 small-scale producers annually. Since the start of the program in 2010, the impact on the industry has been substantial: about 90% of the sweetpotato production area in Arkansas uses virus-indexed planting slips developed through UAPB’s Sweet Potato Foundation Seed Program.

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