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Nicholas A. George, Kenneth V. Pecota, Blake D. Bowen, Jonathan R. Schultheis and G. Craig Yencho

Sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) is traditionally grown for fresh consumption, particularly in developed nations, but it is increasingly being used for alternative markets such as processed foods and industrial products. Sweetpotato is well suited for these end uses but its utilization is limited due to high production costs. These costs are primarily the result of high labor inputs. As a vegetatively propagated crop, sweetpotato is typically planted using unrooted plant cuttings, or “slips,” which requires hand labor at several stages. Consequently, planting costs can be as high as 20% of total production costs. As an alternative to slips, sweetpotato can be established using root pieces, similar to the seed piece system used for potato (Solanum tuberosum). This system can be readily mechanized and therefore has the potential to reduce labor demands. Root piece planting has been investigated several times since the 1940s but is not reported to be in large-scale commercial use anywhere in the world. In this work, we review the research literature relating to root piece planting in sweetpotato. This literature demonstrates that it is possible for sweetpotato root pieces to produce yields comparable to slips, but that in most cases yields from root pieces are usually lower than from slips. We conclude that given suitable cultural management and appropriate varieties, it may be possible to successfully produce sweetpotato using root pieces. More work is necessary to develop root piece planting as a viable alternative to slips in sweetpotato production. This work should include the selection and breeding of adapted varieties, evaluation of the economics of sweetpotato production using root pieces, development of planting equipment suited to sweetpotato root pieces, and examination of chemical treatments to improve success of root piece planting.