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Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation
Agricultural News and Information

Greg Gibson, Coordinator
Public Relations / Multimedia
1-800-227-8244 ext. 4154
or 601-977-4154
email: ggibson@msfb.org

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 year round.


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,” he said.


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 freight.


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 teacher.
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.

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The Mississippi 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.

© 2007 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation