“This year, the Thanksgiving and Christmas movement was good, even though the crop was short due to the rain we had last year,” he said.
Easter may be the last stand for some growers until the next crop comes in, Precythe said.
“There will be enough overall to go to the new crop, but there are people that won’t make it to the new crop. I’d say there will be people who are out after Easter,” he said.
Total acreage in 2013 was 113,200, which was down from 126.6 a year earlier, USDA reported.
While rain cut into last year’s crop in many areas, California growers’ concerns rest on the opposite side of the moisture spectrum.
A potential lack of water could be a major problem in the Golden State, as 2014 unfolds, growers there say.
“The biggest thing, of course, is finding land that has a well on it,” said Duane Hutton, manager of Yagi Bros. Produce Inc., a grower-shipper based in Livingston, Calif.
Some land that has been traditionally farmed for sweet potatoes simply isn’t farmable with just canal water, he said.
“For an 80-acre field on canal, you can farm 40 acres and leave 40 fallow,” Hutton said.
Some growers might ponder planting earlier varieties that won’t have to deal with possible later-season water shortages, he said.
California harvested 19,000 acres a year ago, and growers will be challenged to match that this year, Hutton said.
Sarah Alvernaz, general manager and salesperson with Livingston-based California Sweet Potato Growers, said some growers appear to be in better position than others, where the water outlook is concerned.
“I think every individual grower is in a different position and it depends on what irrigation district they’re in,” she said, noting she anticipates an overall decrease in acreage for 2014.
“Fortunately, there’s groundwater still we can pump — as long as a grower has pumps,” Alvernaz said.