Sweet times for sweet potatoes, marketers say

03/08/2011 12:13:41 PM
Jim Offner

“Movement has been pretty good, but we should be a couple of dollars higher because potatoes are going to be out before the new crop comes in,” he said.

North Carolina typically starts its harvest in the last week of August, Hill said.

“Better chains like cured product all year, and it’s going to be hard to do that this year, because supplies are going to be short,” he said.

Heavy rains came just in time for last year’s North Carolina crop, said Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Faison-based Southern Produce Distributors Inc.

“Last year, North Carolina had one of the best crops it ever had, and one of the best crops I ever had,” he said.

“Yields were up and quality was up, but yields and quality usually go together.”

It almost didn’t work out that way, he said.

“I’ve been in this 40 years and this was the only time I’ve ever seen a 14- to 16-inch rain make a crop instead of take a crop,” he said.

“We got 6 or 7 inches out of that first rain and it soaked it up like a sponge. About three or four days later, we got another 6 or 7 inches. We got some tropical depressions came in. That made the crop.”

Mississippi and Louisiana, meanwhile, hope to bounce back after two straight years of rain-shortened crops.

“I feel real comfortable that we’ve got a good crop in storage,” said Benny Graves, executive director of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council.

“I think we’ll have some good Easter movement and we’ll go in after Easter, and I would hope the price will stabilize and maybe firm up a little bit. I feel real comfortable we’re going to move the crop and go cure to cure. That’s all real good.”

Mississippi harvested 21,000 acres in 2010, up from the 19,200 it had in 2009.

Louisiana reported 13,000 acres in its report to the U.S. Sweet Potato Council.

Some growers and shippers in North Carolina reported selling product to colleagues in Louisiana and Mississippi, where rain cut into more than half the crop in 2009.

“Mississippi had some real shortages,” Wooten said.

“They lost 60% of their crops in 2009 with too much rain, and Louisiana had a short crop. So, the market was higher last year than it is now.”

Conditions were much-improved over 2009 and 2008, according to a report to the U.S. Sweet Potato Council from Tara Smith, extension specialist with the Louisiana State University AgCenter in Chase.

“The majority of yields reported thus far are average compared to 2007, our last harvest season not impacted by excessive rain,” she said.



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