The Southern sweet potato deal is shaping up to be one of the best in recent years.
Overall, sources in the region were optimistic and predicted higher prices. Everyone’s overall tone was positive, hopeful and cautious.
Pricing information was sketchy in mid-August because it was early in the deal, but sources said they didn’t expect prices to drop.
Shane Watt, director of sweet potatoes at Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls, Idaho, said the company is the Dole-approved marketer of sweet potatoes (as well as potatoes and onions), and has deals in North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.
Other grower-shippers are focusing on development of new varieties.
Shaking things up
Wada Farms has added a new sweet potato variety this year, the murasaki. It has purple skin and white flesh. The company also offers orange and purple varieties, Watt said.
Wayne Garber, partner in Garber Farms, Iota, La., said his company is carrying beauregard and evangeline sweet potato varieties. The company also has begun carrying the beauregard-3, billed as an improved version of the popular beauregard.
George Wooten, president and part owner of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., said the company carries the covington, beauregard, a bit of the evangeline, o’henry, greenville and some Oriental varieties, such as the grand Asian and the murasaki.
The company recently began carrying the evangeline, and the company’s purple varieties are fairly new, he said.
Roy Hansen, sales manager for Dawson Farms, Delhi, La., have beauregard and evangeline sweet potato varieties.
Earl Roy Sweet Potato Co. LLC, Hessmer, La., will carry beauregard and evangeline sweet potato varieties this year, said manager Johnny Roy. The company’s acreage should be up by about 100 acres this year, and he expects a high-quality crop, he said.
“The crop looks good. We’ve had good weather. It got a bit dry and hot, but we got good rain.”
The company dealt with a minimal amount of pests this year, he said.
Garber Farms has increased its sweet potato crop by about 5% this year.
The vegetables sizing is on track. The company is expecting to harvest around mid-August.
The sweet potato crop is looking favorable this year, Garber said.
“We are very optimistic,” he said.
Garber Farms and other grower-shippers have suffered more than their share of difficult harvests over the last two years but anticipate those hard times are all behind them for now.
This year, Garber Farms may be able to recover from the past two down years and may even be able to get back to where it was three years ago, Garber said. He said he anticipates a decent harvest for this season.
Dawson Farm’s plants look good too. Its harvest will likely start in September, depending on weather, but no weather or pest issues had arisen as of mid-August.
Garber Farms has experienced an above-average start, but depending on the harvest and volume, it will adjust as the season goes on, Garber said.
Looking to expand
Wooten said his company’s North Carolina sweet potato acreage is up about 20% and the company even plans to branch out into additional counties. The company is already planning ahead for new operations for 2011.
North Carolina had hot weather this year, Wooten said. This year’s yield has yet to be determined.
Garber Farms is continuously growing in the northern and southern portions of Louisiana and is offering more line items out of its facilities.
Production is about the same for Dawson Farms this year but is down in Louisiana.
Wooten said his company has experienced 50% growth this year. Production in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama is the same.
Alabama has started a bit in early in late July, but crews worked half days for a while because of the heat, Wooten said.
Jimmy Burch, owner of Burch Farms, Faison, N.C., said the company is producing bigger and better sweet potatoes. Demand is strong, and the sales are up 21%, he said.
Burch said the North Carolina harvest should be gathered around Labor Day and the Georgia harvest is looking good and was expected to be harvested around the eight of August.
Burch said they have 10% more acreage in general. It should be a lovely crop and prices this year.
Prices are a little higher this year, Roy said.
Early pricing will be strong because the industry is coming off a short supply year, Garber said.
Roy and Hansen agreed.
In late August, 40-pound cartons of orange U.S. No. 1 grade North carolina sweet potatoes brought $18-19 and U.S. No. 1 petites brought $14. Cartons of U.S. No. 1s from Mississippi brought $19-22, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In early September last year, 40-pound cartons of orange U.S. No. 1 grade sweet potatoes from North Carolina were $15-16 and $11-12 for cartons of U.S. No. 1 petites. The same out of Mississippi ran $17.50-18 for cartons of U.S. No. 1s.
If the sweet potatoes don’t size up, the jumbo market will be even smaller, Wooten said.
Input costs are similar to last year and remain relatively high, Roy said.
Garber said he is hoping for more favorable fuel prices.
Wooten and Burch said that while most input costs remain similar to last year, labor costs have gone up.