Sweet potato growers bet on a sure cure

08/26/2011 02:59:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

Sweet potato growers like to be able to ship cured product year-round, and this year, it looks like they’ll be able to, with storage crops likely to last until the new crop is cured and ready to ship.

“We try to market cured to cured,” said George Wooten, president and partner, Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C.

“Based on our supplies now (in August), we think we’ll be able to transition from cured to cured.”

Wooten said he expects the 2010 storage crop to last into September, and cured new-crop sweets should be available in early September.

In August, Wayne E. Bailey was shipping storage crop from facilities in Bruce, Miss., and Chadbourn.

Mississippi’s cured sweet potato storage supplies should last until new-crop cured sweets are available, said Benny Graves, executive director, Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, Vardaman.

“We’ll probably go cured to cured, with very little green shipped,” he said.

Last year, Mississippi growers had to ship some green (uncured) sweet potatoes because storage supplies ran out, Graves said.

On Aug. 18, 40-pound cartons of orange-type U.S. No. 1 sweet potatoes from North Carolina were priced at $16-21 at the Atlanta terminal market, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. A year earlier, they were priced at $22-24.

Kim Matthews, partner, Matthews Ridgeview Farms, Wynne, Ark., said on Aug. 15 that prices had edged up during the past few weeks.

In mid-August, she was seeing f.o.b. prices at $18 and higher for 40-pound cartons.

Shane Watt, director of sweet potatoes, Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls, Idaho, said prices were down just a bit, and he thought it was nothing more than the usual fluctuations.

“Prices are not as strong as last year,” Wooten said. “The supplies may be more adequate this year than last year.”

Supplies ran out sooner last year, Wooten said, and “a little pandemonium” last August caused some concern about where sweet potato sourcing.

That combined with strong demand caused prices to rise.

“There are still tight supplies right now, but they’re a little more managed,” Wooten said.

Weather in the South has been hot and dry, which has slowed sweet potato crops’ progress but should have no effect on quality, growers said.

Wada expects a slow start with excellent quality and average yields, Watt said. Its acreage is up throughout the South, so volumes could be larger than last year.

Mississippi crops endured a two-week period of 100-degree temperatures from late July to early August, Graves said.

Some rainfall returned to the area in the second week of August, he said.

“These are good showers, too,” Graves said. “An inch or two — just what you need to grow a crop and size them up.”

Wayne Garber, partner, Garber Farms, Iota, La., said Louisiana had many 95- to 100-degree days in areas where it’s typically 90 to 95 degrees.

The crops received only about 40% of the rainfall they normally get, he said.

Garber estimated rainfall was 20 inches less than usual.

Garber Farms grows sweet potatoes in northern and southern Louisiana, and the conditions were the same in both areas, he said.

Wooten said the lack of moisture slowed crops and could lessen yields and decrease sizes.

“We may have to wait longer to let them size up,” he said.

Jimmy Burch Sr., partner, Burch Farms, Faison, N.C., said his crops finally received some rain in early August.

Burch Farms has been irrigating crops, as it typically does each season.

This year, however, was extra hot, with 11 days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Burch said.

The crop is fine, but yields probably will be lower, he said. With more acreage planted, though, he said overall North Carolina production should be about the same as last year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s preliminary data indicate that North Carolina’s sweet potato plantings this year were up 9.1% compared to last year. Preliminary data show 60,000 acres planted in the state.

Watt said on Aug. 12 that conditions in the northeastern and eastern portions of North Carolina were good with some rainfall. The southern part of North Carolina was still dry, though.

The sweet potato growing region is in eastern North Carolina, which was especially dry from May through July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.

The Raleigh-Durham area, which is about 60 miles northwest of Faison, recorded one of its three warmest Julys and broke a record for consecutive days (five) at 100 degrees or hotter.



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