Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation
Agricultural News and Information
Greg Gibson, Coordinator
Public Relations / Multimedia
1-800-227-8244 ext. 4154
Baileys are State Young Farmer Achievement Award winners
Calhoun County sweet potato growers Stephen and Kisha Bailey were recently
named winners of the 2007 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers
and Ranchers State Achievement Award. They were recognized for their farming
innovations, leadership skills and involvement in Farm Bureau and their
community. The Baileys will receive the use of John Deere and Kubota tractors,
a pickup truck and various cash awards, and will represent Mississippi
in the national competition in New Orleans in January.
As a Vardaman sweet potato grower, Stephen carries on a farming tradition
begun by his grandfather in 1946. Unlike his grandfather, Stephen works
with an industry that has changed drastically within the last ten years.
The biggest innovation in recent years is the availability of sweet potatoes
Stephen’s family was the first in the state to offer year round
sweet potatoes by putting in their own sweet potato cold storage unit.
Cold storage allows sweet potato growers to take advantage of higher prices
and offer a product that is more consistent in appearance and flavor.
Stephen says this combination, along with a growing demand for a healthy
diet, has increased annual sweet potato consumption to 50-year highs.
As another innovation on the farm, Stephen recently modified his planting
equipment and regime to successfully discourage deer and mice from eating
sweet potatoes in the field. In two fields alone, he estimates damage
sustained one year easily totaled over $20,000.
“Part of the reason the potatoes are so easily exposed to this damage
is due to the shape of the row, which is triangular,” he said. “Running
a middle plow with a roller attached directly behind it makes the row
bigger and square-shaped at the top. When the sweet potato is planted,
the top of the row is much wider. When the field is cultivated, even more
dirt is pushed around the plant.
“The result is that deer and mice cannot see or reach the plant
as easily, and they never seem to get the taste for the crop that they
formerly did,” he said.
The weather can be a crop’s most limiting factor. Lack of irrigation
has affected sweet potato yields many years. Stephen is testing drip irrigation
for his fields on a small scale.
“Traditional overhead or flood furrow irrigation systems do not
work well with sweet potatoes because the amount of water used over-saturates
the soil and can choke the plant in the high heat,” he said. “Drip
irrigation may be the solution because one can limit the water output
to very small amounts that never cause stress from over-watering.”
This year, Stephen began expanding his operation by designing and building
a curing house to quicken skin set. He also designed and built a state
of the art packing facility adjacent to the new curing house.
“The new operation is designed to size and sort a much smaller sweet
potato than the average washer,” Stephen said. “The facility
can size and sort these smaller sweet potatoes at a higher rate as well.
The purpose behind this is to presort and prepare sweet potatoes for the
large food processing facility that will eventually be built in the area
and that will utilize small potatoes.”
A study to determine the feasibility of building a food processing plant
at Vardaman was spearheaded by a local sweet potato cooperative. As chairman
of the board of directors of the cooperative, Stephen met and worked with
food processors, research chefs, sales and marketing firms, process engineers,
cost accountants and many financial institutions.
“Many times over the last three years, I’ve led large group
discussions with banks, state and federal agencies and local and state
government economic development to muster support for such a facility,”
Stephen also worked with fellow sweet potato growers to get a $2.4 million
USDA grant to help fund ongoing in-field research to study insect damage
to sweet potatoes and to implement an integrative pest management program
for this crop. He says his own farm has improved its management practices
by implementing a regular scouting program for insects. This has lowered
insect damage significantly through recognition of insect pressures before
they cause damage and controlling them with timely sprays.
In recent years, Stephen and fellow growers began further processing their
sweet potatoes at an out-of-state processing facility so they could market
their crop in the form of French fries, mashed potatoes and pre-baked
sweet potatoes. This past fall, they were able to begin working with a
local processor to make the same products instate, which will save on
Stephen’s future goals include continuing to maximize yield and
expand the market for sweet potatoes.
“In order to meet the changes in consumer habits,” he said,
“my marketing must evolve to ensure sweet potatoes are being sold
to match consumer demand.”
Stephen has also begun experimenting with producing alternative vegetables
such as onions and greens.
Stephen has served on the Calhoun County Farm Bureau Board of Directors
and as vice chair of the Calhoun County Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.
He has worked with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and the State
Sweet Potato Council on both state and national levels on issues related
to growing sweet potatoes. He and Kisha were named the 2007 YF&R Achievement
Award winners for Region 4.
Stephen is a member of other agricultural organizations, often in leadership
positions. Kisha has worked with county and state women’s committees
on the MFBF Women’s legislative “Day at the Capitol”
event. Stephen and Kisha are active in their church. She is a kindergarten
The Baileys have two sons, Britton and Rivers.
For more information about the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Young
Farmers and Ranchers program, contact YF&R Coordinator Greg Shows
at 1-800-227-8244, ext. 4277. Or call 601-977-4277.
Farm Bureau Federation is the state's largest general farm
organization with more than 230,000 member-families statewide. There
are Farm Bureaus in all 82 counties in Mississippi
where agriculture comprises a fundamental part of
Mississippi 's economy.
Headquartered in Jackson
, the federation is an independent, non-profit agricultural
organization and is not associated with any arm of the government.
For more information about Farm Bureau, visit our website at www.msfb.com.