Hot, dry weather could cut into sweet potato yields this season.

Burch Farms Inc., Faison, N.C., expected to begin shipping cured new crop sweet potatoes from Georgia by Labor Day, a normal start to the deal, said Jimmy Burch, partner. The company was expected to begin digging in North Carolina around Labor Day, with shipments to follow three weeks later.

With the North Carolina storage crop expected to wind down about Aug. 20-23, the transition to new crop potatoes was expected to be a smooth one, Burch said. Burch expected continued strong demand when the new crop begins shipping.

On Aug. 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16-17 for 40-pound cartons of orange variety No. 1s from North Carolina, down from $18-19 last year at the same time.

The Georgia crop was looking very healthy in early August, Burch said, but because of hot, dry weather in North Carolina, volumes there could be down 15-20% this season.

“Instead of 5 or 6 (potatoes per hill), we’re seeing 3 or 4,” Burch said.

Higher acreage in North Carolina would likely be offset by lower yields, with the result being a crop similar in size to 2010-11, said Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C.

“Last year was really dry, and this year in some areas it’s even dryer,” Precythe said.

Rain has been spotty this summer, Precythe said, with some fields getting rain while fields five miles away don’t get any.

The quality and size profile of North Carolina sweet potatoes were expected to be good, Burch said.

Because of skips during transplanting, Precythe said there would be a large percentage of jumbos in 2011-12.

Burch Farms planted about 4,600 acres of sweet potatoes in North Carolina for the 2011-12 season, similar to last year.

Mississippi sweet potato production is expected to total about 22,500 acres this season, 3,000 more than in 2010-11, said Benny Graves, executive director of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council.

In early August, Graves said growers were counting on late-season rains to help the crop finish sizing.

“It’s looking fairly good, not excellent,” Graves said Aug. 3. “It’s 100 (degrees) today, and sweet potatoes don’t like 100.”

A few Mississippi growers were expected to begin digging the week of Aug. 8, Graves said. Harvest should begin in earnest about Sept. 1.

Potatoes were on the small side the week of Aug. 1, but yields were high, with some hills producing 8 or 9 potatoes, Graves said.

Graves expected a good transition from old crop to new.

“I don’t think there will be much in storage,” he said. “It should be OK on pricing.”