New insect-resistant and weed-tolerant sweet potato germplasm is being developed by researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Clemson University, a March 6 news release said.
The researchers, bred and selected fast-growing sweet potato clones that have semi-erect to erect canopy architecture, resulting in upright plant growth, the release noted. They identified two sweet potato clones that had reduced weeds, exhibited broad insect resistance, and produced higher yields.
“Breeding sweet potatoes that are competitive with weeds offers a practical solution, because many widely grown sweet potato cultivars tend to grow long vines in a sprawling manner, whereas sweet potatoes with fast-growing upright and compact plant architecture can outcompete weeds,” Phillip Wadl, a research geneticist at ARS’s U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, S.C., said in the release.
The spreading vine growth allows weeds to establish in areas where the plant canopy has not completely shaded the soil surface and can lead to the quick establishment of weeds, Wadl added.
“The widely grown sweet potato cultivars in the U.S. have low levels of resistance to soil-dwelling insect pests. For sustainable management of weeds and insect pests, combining insect resistance with a vigorous upright growth habit is necessary to ‘stack’ traits and develop varieties that exhibit erect, upright plant habit and resistance to insect pests,” he said.
Sweet potato growers typically use herbicides, between-row cultivation, mowing, and hand-weeding to manage weeds. Each method has its drawbacks and isn’t always sustainable for crop production though, the release noted. Researchers are taking another approach by looking at how other vining crops get upright plant growth.
Wadl and the researchers plan to continue ongoing research to develop new insect-resistant germplasm in collaboration with Matthew Cutulle’s vegetable weed science program at Clemson University’s Coastal Research and Education Center.
The findings were published in the journal Weed Technology.