Rain causes delays, possible shortages

08/29/2013 02:18:00 PM
Melissa Shipman

Wada FarmsHeavy rains this year have delayed the southern sweet potato crop. Here, one of Wada Farms’ growers’ sweet potato seed beds have standing water on them on May 24, at a field in Princeton, N.C.A wet year has caused delays and possible shortages in sweet potato crops in the South, growers say.

“The rain has affected a lot of areas, and I think harvest will be two to three weeks later than normal,” said George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Inc, Chadbourn, N.C.

Kim Matthews, co-owner of Wynne, Ark.-based Matthews Ridgeview Farms, says she expects their crop to only be about a week late at this point.

“We’ll be harvesting late,” she said.

Wooten says the delayed harvest also likely will mean smaller potatoes.

“With the delayed crop, we probably won’t have as many jumbo sweet potatoes as we normally do,” he said.

Delays could affect holiday volumes

Norman Brown, director of sales for the Raleigh, N.C. office of Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, says he’s concerned about the upcoming holiday season.

“Thanksgiving is a big mover of sweet potatoes, and the late start may not give us enough product to get through the holiday,” he said.

The issues began at planting time, said Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C.

“When we were transplanting the crop into the field, we had a lot of rain, which got us behind,” he said.

Typically, plants go into the ground between May 15 and June 20, said Precythe, though this year some growers were still planting in July.

It’s still undetermined how the crop will be affected by the late start, although harvest will be later and it’s likely to be smaller.

“Some are predicting the crop to be 10% short. Personally, I think it’s at least 20% short, and it could be shorter depending on the weather we have between now and harvest,” Precythe said.

One reason the outlook is so unpredictable is that the rain varied largely in different areas.

“In a three-mile difference in area, you could have several inches difference in rainfall,” said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Smithfield, N.C.-based North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.

Some locations may be more affected, depending on the soil content.

“Where the soil was too heavy, those fields are likely to have extremely light yields, if any at all,” said Kendall Hill, co-owner of Tull Hill Farms, Kinston, N.C.

However, with as much as 40 inches of rain in June and July, Hill said, there’s likely to be lower yields all around.


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