Some growers and shippers said they might have to cut back on acreage.
“It’s getting where acres will be down this year. There’s no profit in it this year,” said Jimmy Burch, owner of Faison, N.C.-based Burch Farms.
Growth has come too quickly, he said.
“We’ve expanded too much, and consumption can’t keep up with it,” Burch said.
One possible solution is international markets, said Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Faison-based of Southern Produce Distributors Inc.
“We have an overseas business that’s helping drive the market. The movement over there is tremendous,” he said.
Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.’s shipments are at an all-time high of 30 million cartons a year, said owner George Wooten.
Kendall Hill, co-owner of Tull Hill Farms Inc., Kinston, N.C., described the sweet potato market as “unrealistically low” and laid blame on “poor marketing by the grower-shippers in North Carolina.”
They will have to “wake up” or “go broke,” Hill said.
“You can’t do anything below the cost of production, and we’re selling sweet potatoes from North Carolina below the cost of production,” Hill said.
Hill pointed to one grower-shipper, Nashville, N.C.-based Bissett Produce Co. Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid-February.
“If this keeps up, it will be like dominoes,” he said.”