This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
The states in this classification grow large acreages of sweet potatoes. This subject is covered in a separate chapter. The Irish potato situation is also discussed in the chapter on "Specialties - Early Potatoes."
The mild climatic conditions make the production of a crop of very early potatoes - and a later crop - possible, and furnish opportunities for the marketing of an "out-of-season" product at a high price.
There is no reason why the local supply of "white" potatoes for the South should not be grown locally. The fundamental things to be considered are soil, season, and seed.
If the soil in which it is intended to grow the crop is not naturally mellow, easily worked, and sufficiently stocked with fertility to make a crop possible, steps must be taken to bring this about. Heavy, hard lands need cover crops and barnyard manure to lighten their texture; sandy soils require the same things to add fertility.
As far as climate is concerned, it must be remembered that the potato is a "cool-weather" crop, as distinguished from corn, cotton, and the "hot-weather" crops. It must be planted so as to make its greatest growth during the early or late part of the crop season.
Growers of potatoes in warm climates generally find it profitable to use Northern-grown seed. Seed from districts where the tops are killed by frost makes the surest and strongest growth. It is only in such places - like Chile and the western slope in Colorado - that potatoes endure without cultivation for centuries. This is a reason for getting seed from these north latitude or high altitude districts, but is no reason why potatoes should not be grown in the South.
Potatoes to be held for use should be stored in a dark place, as cool and dry as possible.
Following is a description of conditions in one district in Florida that has been made quite famous:
The growing of Irish potatoes in the Hastings district in Florida was begun about ten years ago. It has grown steadily until in 1911 the production was 300,000 barrels, or 800,000 bushels.
The conditions that obtain at Hastings are different from anywhere else in the world.
The soil is a very light sand and the subsoil a stiff, impervious clay at varying depths. This sand is claimed to be very low in available fertility, and annual fertilization is necessary. This fertilizing seems to be quite as essential on land just cleared of timber as on that cropped continuously tor ten years.
A commercial fertilizer costing $30 a ton and containing 4 per cent, nitrate, 7 per cent, acid phosphate, and 7 1/2 per cent. potash is in common use. It is applied at the rate of one ton per acre, being sown in rows previous to planting the potatoes. Some growers claim that barnyard manure cannot be used for fertilizer because it "poisons" the land and causes potato scab.
Potatoes are planted on what are called "beds," in ridges thrown up with implements similar to a "middle breaker" plow or lister, or by a double disk with two small sixteen-inch disks in front, followed by two twenty-four-inch disks that throw the furrows together.
The ridges are forty-two inches apart and about ten inches high; the fertilizer is then put in the furrow and the potatoes planted in this ridge. They are planted two to six inches deep. When planted, the fields have the appearance of a field ridged after the final cultivation in other districts. Very little cultivation is done in this district. Only disk cultivators are used. These cover up the potatoes deeper than they are planted and destroy such weeds as are between the rows.
One grower objected to the use of barnyard manure because it was the cause of many weeds.
The land in the Hastings district is very flat. The heavy rainfall at some seasons of the year makes it imperative that all lands for potato growing be drained. During the dry season irrigation is necessary to insure profitable crops.
This part of Florida is fifteen to twenty miles from the ocean. The St. John's River bounds it on the west. Between the ocean and the river is an artesian water belt. The depth of the wells that furnish this artesian flow is about 200 feet.
At the T. E. Bugbee farm, near Hastings, where land is seventeen feet above sea level, the artesian flow is twenty feet above the surface. At the other end of the farm, two and three fourth miles away, the land is six feet higher and the artesian flow is fourteen feet above the level of the land.
A four-inch well gives a sufficient flow for irrigating forty acres of potatoes. At a cost of $200 for the installation, this system affords perpetual irrigation. It is probably the cheapest irrigation known in the world. All that is necessary to work it is to open or close the valve. The farm homes and barns are supplied with pressure water.
This system of irrigating is similar to that in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. In Florida, however, the sub-laterals or deep trenches are only forty feet apart, while in Colorado they are about 200 feet apart.
The impervious clay subsoil and the flatness of the land permit this system of filling the land with moisture from the clay floor up to the surface or as near the surface as the farmer desires. The top soil is so loose and porous that the soil spaces fill with water readily. These narrow beds in the Hastings district allow the planting of about ten rows of potatoes, forty-two inches apart to the bed. Then, there is about six feet of land required for the trench in which the irrigating water is held until it "subs" or seeps to the centre of the forty-foot bed. This is a waste of land.
Northern-grown seed potatoes are used exclusively. They come from New York or Maine growers. One successful Florida grower says that partially matured seed from Maine gives the strongest plants and growth with less rot in unfavorable cold and wet seasons.
The Spaulding No. "4" Rose, a variety that is regarded as a late sort in the North, is the earliest large yielding sort they have ever grown extensively at Hastings. Fully 95 per cent. of the planting is of this variety. Last year, however, an acre of "Polaris" gave the best yield ever grown.
From ten to twelve bushels of seed are used per acre. From 65 to 90 per cent, of a perfect stand is generally secured, although occasionally a whole planting is lost from excessive cold and heavy rains, unless the best possible drainage or ditch facilities are made.
Planting on flat ground without ridging would almost always be a failure because of the heavy rains. This is because the land is so flat and the subsoil so impervious. The water could not be carried off until the crop was scalded by the hot sun, or the seed rotted.
From one to four, generally two to three, irrigations are usually necessary to mature a crop.
The yields are about forty barrels, or 112 bushels, per acre. The range is from 75 to 250 bushels per acre.
The busy harvesting season is from April 10th to June. Harvest hands come long distances to work in the potato fields. The labor is all colored; $1 to $1.50 per day is the wage paid. Forty to fifty cars a day are sent out during the season. Forty to fifty buyers from Northern cities are on the ground during this short harvesting season. The potato-growing area can be about quadrupled. Considerable capital is required to clear the land of pine trees and stumps - about $30 to $75 per acre.
Ten days before potatoes are harvested corn is planted in the furrows, and when digging time comes the corn is six to ten inches high. The potatoes are "lifted" or dug by hand. The corn is cultivated once or twice and one and one half bushels of cow peas are sown per acre. The corn is harvested in November and the cow peas cut for hay. The cow peas are cut about eight inches above the ground. The stubble is then plowed under. This makes it possible to grow a crop of potatoes every year. The cow-pea stubble and the root system furnish humus to the soil.
Land values have advanced in ten years from $25 an acre to $200 an acre for best improved farms.
Potatoes are graded and shipped in barrels. The No. 1 grade is two and one fourth inches or more in diameter. No. 2, one and one half to two and one fourth inches in diameter. The No. 1 grade usually sells for one dollar per barrel above the No. 2 grade. When the potato crop is short and prices are high, the culls are also shipped. Average prices received by the grower for five years has been $3.25 per barrel net. Barrels hold eleven pecks (two bushels and three pecks).
When the potatoes are dug, three rows are thrown into one and one set of pickers pick out the No. 1 grade, another set of pickers follow and sort out the No. 2 grade. This seems a very crude and expensive way.
At the beginning of the harvest, potatoes are only partially matured. They are soft and full of sap and must be taken out of the hot sun within thirty minutes from the time they are exposed. Otherwise, they scald and heat. No sorter or grader has been devised that will grade without bruising the skin.
This season (1912) the best growers are spraying extensively for blight.
The cost of growing potatoes in Florida is given in Chapter XIII (Cost Of Growing Potatoes - Yield - Prices - Profits).
In a report of Ed. R. Kone, Commissioner of Agriculture of the State of Texas, the following in regard to the Texas potato situation is submitted.
Potatoes are a profitable crop in Texas. Our soils and climatic conditions appear well suited to them. The principal supply of this crop, which goes to the markets of the country, is grown in eastern Texas, though it grows well in much of our soil from the Gulf coast to the northwestern boundary of our state.
The sweet potato is especially adapted to Texas soils and climate. Usually the yield is much greater per acre than that of the Irish potato. In' Farmers' Bulletin No. 324' of the United States Department of Agriculture, on sweet potatoes, this crop is placed among the five greatest commercial truck crops, and ranked as third on the list. No truck crop in Texas has increased in volume so much as this. It is one of the great commercial crops and can be grown over as wide a range of territory as any of the other vegetable crops.
As long ago as 1899 Texas ranked tenth in the value of all vegetable crops grown that year. This is according to the twelfth census report of the United States, 1900. The average value per acre for Irish potatoes for 1899 was $33.25, and for sweet potatoes $38.77. The average yield per acre for Irish potatoes was 61.5 bushels and for sweet potatoes 75.7. The average value per bushel was 54 cents for Irish potatoes and 51 cents for sweet potatoes. Hence it will be noted that the sweet potato gives the greatest average value per acre, and explains why there has been such a marked increase in the development of the sweet-potato industry in our state during the last ten-year period."