Calling all inventors. Mississippi State University has issued a challenge to create the next big product using sweet potatoes.

Gary Jackson, director of the university's Extension Service, launched the Sweet Potato Innovation Challenge recently at the Sweet Potato Council's annual meeting in Calhoun County, according to a news release.

His comments were prompted by growers saying they needed additional products and markets for their orange and purplish root crop.

Jamie Earp, the council's incoming president, said the goal is to create steady demand for sweet potatoes grown in Mississippi.

“That would mean we’d never run out of places to sell our culls or No. 2s,” Earp said in the release. “Every year is different. This year, we’re still selling those potatoes to processors. But last year, the processing plants didn’t buy any culls past Thanksgiving, and we were throwing away a product that we could have sold for $40 to $60 a bin.”

Looking out further, Earp said the new products could even be adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's school lunch program.

Stephen Meyer, Extension sweet potato specialist, and Jason Ward, assistant Extension professor of agricultural and biological engineering, are coordinating the challenge.

MSU professors also can make the contest part of their class curriculum. Three have already signed up to participate during the fall semester.

Candidate products will be judged by a panel of growers, MSU Extension specialists, and staff and industry representatives. A $2,500 prize will be awarded to the winning team.

Teams also are eligible to apply for intellectual property rights according to university procedures.