History

  • Sweet potatoes were grown in Peru as early as 750 B.C.
  • Native Americans were already growing sweet potatoes when Columbus arrived on the northern continent in 1492.
  • Both Louis XV's and Empress Josephine's fondness of the sweet potato encouraged two short periods of popularity for this veggie in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
  • African slaves in the South called the sweet potato "nyami" because it reminded them of the starchy, edible tuber of that name that grew in their homeland. The Senegalese word "nyami" was eventually shortened to the word "yam".
  • "Yam" also refers to sweet potatoes that are grown in Louisiana. When the orange-fleshed, Puerto Rican variety of sweet potatoes was adopted by Louisiana producers and shippers, they called them "yams" to distinguish them from the white-fleshed sweet potatoes grown in other parts of the country. The yam reference became the trademark for Louisiana-grown sweet potatoes.
  • George Washington, the first U.S. President, was a sweet potato farmer before becoming president.
  • In 1910, the U.S. Census Bureau's agricultural statistics showed that there were more than 55,000 acres planted with sweet potatoes in the state of Louisiana. In 2004 there were approximately 20,000 acres of sweet potatoes planted in Louisiana.
  • George Washington Carver was an African-American man born in Missouri in 1864. He studied farming and nutrition, and he began to think of new ways that poor black farmers could earn more money. He recommended planting sweet potatoes and peanuts in soil that was worn out from growing cotton. When the farmers tried this, they discovered that these new crops could grow very well in that kind of soil. Carver worked to create new uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes. He made 300 different new products from peanuts and about 100 new products from sweet potatoes. Flour, ink, starch, synthetic rubber, tapioca, vinegar, a type of glue for postage stamps and 500 shades of textile dye were all made from sweet potatoes.
  • A bad crop of cotton turned farmers in south Louisiana to sweet potatoes as a cash crop in the 1930's. This marks the most significant period of increased popularity of sweet potatoes as the Louisiana product became known in the nation's markets.
  • In 1943, 124,000 acres of sweet potatoes were harvested in Louisiana alone. At that time, 21.7 pounds of sweet potatoes were consumed per capita annually. In 2004 only 98,000 acres of sweet potatoes were grown nationwide, with the average person consuming approximately 4.2 pounds annually. In 2004, 20,000 acres of sweet potatoes were planted in Louisiana. Louisiana produces 20.3 percent of the annual US production of sweet potatoes.*According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service from the U.S. Department of Agriculture archives.
  • As a sweet potato-producing-state, Louisiana is second only to North Carolina.
  • Louisiana sweet potato growers started using the term "yam" several decades ago as a national marketing tool to help distinguish their variety from varieties grown on the East Coast. The Louisiana sweet potato was softer, sweeter and more moist when baked. It was different from the dry, mealy variety grown in the East. The term "Louisiana Yams" has served the industry as an unofficial trademark and is likely here to stay.
  • In 1987, Dr. Larry Ralston, an entomologist with the LSU Agricultural Center's research branch, the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, developed a more insect-resistant sweet potato and named it the Beauregard.
  • The Beauregard has a sweet, rich flavor, bakes well and is disease-resistant. It helped Louisiana farmers reclaim lost market share in the sweet potato industry.
  • The Beauregard helped Louisiana’s sweet potato industry contribute a value of more than $151 million to the state's economy in 2003. *According to figures from the LSU AgCenter.
  • Thanks to the Beauregard, the sweet potato industry continues to be the largest vegetable enterprise in Louisiana. Figures from 2003 indicate that the crop can claim $87.6 million in gross farm income. Another $63.9 million can be added for transportation, distribution and marketing connected with production and processing. That means a total annual value to the state of $151.6 million.
    *According to figures from the LSU AgCenter.