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Story Archives: Parish to gain in potato boom
|Parish to gain in potato boom|
The announcement of plans for a sweet potato processing in nearby Richland Parish earlier this month, set the wheels of opportunity turning for Franklin Parish interest.
Franklin Parish is home to the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station, which has been a leader in the industry for the past 60 years and, today, a good number of all the sweet potatoes grown in the state have roots in Franklin Parish soil.
The Kenneth Thornhill family of Wisner has 725 acres of sweet potatoes under cultivation and nearly ready for harvest in September.
Thornhill, a long-time participant in sweet potato and agriculture groups, says the new plant will be, "the catalyst" for industry growth in the state and region of northeast Louisiana.
Tara Smith, a research coordinator with the Research Station, said the new plant, "presents an opportunity for Franklin Parish farmers."
Others, such as Gov. Bobby Jindal and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and state economic leaders, predict far reaching positive impacts for the state and region.
Franklin Parish is likely to benefit simply from being close to the new processing plant, according to both Smith and Thornhill.
"The Macon Ridge, from Sicily Island to Arkansas should be a potential source for most of the sweet potatoes of the future," Thornhill speculated recently.
However, he points out that the capital requirements of the crop may prevent many farmers from entering the field.
"It's a very expensive crop," he said and pointed out that input costs this year alone could be as high as $2,800 per acre.
"And when you get 27 inches of rain, you're not a happy camper," he said in reference to last August's Hurricane Gustav, which caused his farm extensive crop losses.
Thornhill said Louisiana has lost about, "fifty percent of our growers in the past 10 years."
He said other challenges face the growth of the sweet potato industry.
For example, he said ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston operations would be careful in its marketing tactics, "not to create more of a demand than it can supply."
But, room for long term growth is on the Thornhill horizon.
"This is a small industry, there are going to be new developments in the future. We've had LSU at the forefront for a number of years and the addition of a processing plant is going to spur those developments."