(Feb. 4) NEW ORLEANS — While buyers should see another strong sweet potato crop, the U.S. Sweet Potato Council projected a slightly smaller crop than last year at its annual meeting and convention.

Growers from the U.S. and Canada gathered on Jan. 25 for a three day summit on the state of the sweet potato business. The Louisiana chapter of the council hosted the meeting that featured presenters from U.S. Department of Agriculture and Louisiana State University.

Charles Walker, executive secretary of the council said that while the USDA was calling the 2003 harvest one of the best sweet potato crops in history, his figures disclosed a production lower than last year’s.

The council’s outgoing president, Larry Fontenot,retiring council president and grower for E&L Produce, Ville Platte, said that growers in Alabama and North Carolina had experienced severe flooding that reduced the early harvest in 2003.

The council’s new president, Stephen Bailey, a grower for Vardaman, Miss.-based N&W Farms, said severe shortages in the supply chain had increased prices early last fall of and that while prices for sweet potatoes remained higher than in recent years, demand had slowed in January, and prices for 40-pound cartons of USDA No.1 cured sweet potatoes had settled back to $14-16 per carton.