Demand high for Thanksgiving staples

10/24/2013 10:23:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Pamela RiemenschneiderConsumers may find themselves paying more for some Thanksgiving staples this year, thanks to brisk demand and Mother Nature.

Sweet potatoes

Faison, N.C.-based Burch Farms expects to have adequate supplies for Thanksgiving, but demand will be high, said Jimmy Burch, co-owner.

“I think we’ll be OK, but it’s going to tight,” Burch said. “The market will be up.”

Thanksgiving f.o.b.s will likely be in the $16-17 range, he said.

Due to a combination of acreage cuts and aftereffects from June and July rains, the North Carolina crop will be about 20% lighter than last season, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Benson-based North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.

As a result, demand in the runup to Thanksgiving should spike, Johnson-Langdon said.

“Prices are likely to go up and they will remain high for the remainder of the season,” she said.

Prices were running about $2 higher per box than last year at this time, and that shouldn’t change much heading into Thanksgiving, said Benny Graves, executive director of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised with demand,” Graves said. “In general, supplies nationwide are on the tight side.”

Still, there should be plenty of product for Thanksgiving, even with lower acreage in Mississippi and a late start, Graves said. Shippers are taking advantage of quick-cure rooms more than ever to get product ready for market, he said.

The quality of sweet potatoes shipping for the holiday will be good, though jumbos will be very scarce this season, Burch said. Mississippi quality is better this year than in the past two years, Graves said.

Burch Farms expects its 2013-14 volumes to be at least 15% short of last year, which will likely affect who gets sweet potatoes this season and who doesn’t.

“I’ll take care of my year-round customers, the customers who buy every week,” he said. “The guys who just shop around, they’re going to do without.”

Strong markets this season will be a welcome change from the 2012-13 season, Burch said.

“We’ll end up making a little money this year,” he said. “We didn’t make any last year. Sometimes these bumper crops, you don’t make anything.”

On Oct. 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $19-22 for 40-pound cartons of sweet potatoes from California, up from $18-19 last year at the same time.


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