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Do Idaho Farmers Grow Sweet Potatoes?

Q:

My wife said that Idaho just grows russet potatoes and nothing else.  Why can’t the Idaho farmers grow sweet potatoes?

A:

You asked a very good question. The combination of soil, climate and water access from irrigation and mountain streams, along with the talent of some 700 Idaho Farmers, have been able to create a very unique high solids low moisture russet potato that has proved to be very successful in the marketplace.  The Russet Burbank variety, named after the famous plant scientist Luther Burbank, is about 56% of our production. But, it didn’t used to be that way.  Over the years farmers and the University of Idaho scientists have developed several different varieties.  In fact, we now have an extensive list of russet, red, yellow flesh and fingerling potatoes available in both foodservice and consumer packs.  Check out this extensive selection.

Once upon a time, a local Boise area farmer did find a way to grow sweet potatoes.  The climate here is too cold, the season too short and the humidity too dry to plant sweet potatoes on a commercial basis with much volume.  But the determination of Mr. Edwards, using greenhouses, did plant, nurture and harvest a crop each year.  The late Thomas Edwards, known as the “Sweet Potato King of Boise”, grew sweet potatoes, watermelon and special onions at two sites in Boise during the late ’20s, ’30s and even the ’40s.

The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is a tender, warm-weather vegetable that requires a long frost-free growing season to mature large, useful roots.  The sweet potato is native to Central and South America.  It is one of the most important food crops in tropical and subtropical countries, where both the roots and tender shoots are eaten as a vital source of nutrients. Commercial production in the United States is mainly in the southern states, particularly North Carolina and Louisiana.

By the way, here is a fun short video about the Idaho farmers who are collectively responsible for growing and harvesting over 12 billion pounds of potatoes each year.

For more pictures of Idaho® potato farmers click here.