Sweet potato research project gets funding bump to support commercialization in Manitoba

Horticultural Production student, Kateri Hope Roulette, poses for a photo with a sweet potato she's harvested

A multi-year sweet potato research project has received grant funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to support the project's next step—commercial production.

The research project, officially titled “Evaluation and commercialization of sweet potato varieties adapted to Canadian prairies environments” started in 2015. This new grant will ensure that the upcoming phase of the project can ultimately build a Western Canadian source of sweet potato slips.

“This particular funding will enhance local production capacity for propagating sweet potato planting material, known as slips, through improved greenhouse systems,” said Dr. Sajjad Rao, faculty researcher at Assiniboine. “This project will transfer an efficient, affordable and scientifically proven greenhouse production system for propagating sweet potato slips to a commercial seed supplier.”

Market and industry demand for sweet potatoes has grown in recent years, making this a crop of interest for Canadian growers.

“Most consumer supply is currently imported from the United States, so there is a market need for Canadian produced sweet potato slips for commercial growers,” said Dr. Rao. “There is significant potential to offset imports and support industry expansion, but this is contingent upon the local availability of slips for Manitoba growers. Limited research of energy-intensive greenhouse production of sweet potato slips has been conducted in Canada.”

Overall, this research project aims to:

  1. Construct a Canadian economic value chain by offsetting slip import costs with locally produced sweet potato planting material.
  2. Meet grower and industry market needs.
  3. Improve population food security and build healthier and stronger communities.
  4. Enhance agricultural production knowledge and skills to maintain competitiveness and sustainability in the agriculture food and product sector.
  5. Advance crop production in a sustainable greenhouse setting, enhancing cultural and environmental management practices.

This research will also provide experiential learning opportunities, giving students significant research experience in data collection, growing crops in passive solar greenhouse systems, data analysis, communicating results through preparation of written and oral reports and exposure to the commercial production industry.

The NSERC grant for this next step of research totals $25,000.