The southern sweet potato harvest should be underway by early September this season after what growers say were excellent growing conditions this summer.

Production is expected to be similar to or slightly above 2016’s 3.1 billion pounds.

“Overall, our crop is looking good — above average to excellent,” said Trey Boyette, sales manager and partner with SMP Southeast/Edmonson Farms, Vardaman, Miss.

“It looks like we’re going to have optimum sizing,” Boyette said. “There’s not too many potatoes to a hill, so that leads to better sizing.”

The company has added 350-400 acres this season to meet increased demand for its beauregard, bellevue and orleans varieties, he said.

Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., was scheduled to start its harvest the third week of August, about a week earlier than last year, said owner George Wooten Jr.

Assuming digging goes smoothly, the company should finish its harvest the last week of October, he said.

Wooten did not expect any problem finding workers to pick the crop.

“Labor seems to be adequate for what we’re doing,” he said.

The company, along with many others, hires workers through the federal H-2A visa program.

Ham Produce Co. Inc., Snow Hill, N.C., expects its 2016 storage crop to last into September, said Will Kornegay, senior vice president of sales and business development.

The company plans to transition to its 2017 crop in late September.

Growing conditions have been “great so far,” he said the second week of August.

Volume for the company will be up slightly as a result of new acreage planted to meet demand, he said.

Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho, anticipates a good crop of sweet potatoes this year with harvesting expected to start around Sept. 1, said marketing director Eric Beck.

Acreage should be the same as past years.

Growing conditions have been good, and weather was not unusually hot in early August.

“Rain has cooled things down and definitely provided moisture that we were needing,” he said.

Kornegay Family Produce, Princeton, N.C., should start its 2017 harvest on Labor Day or shortly thereafter.

“That’s when optimum harvest size should be reached,” said Kim Kornegay-LeQuire, co-owner.

The region received some timely rain showers the second week of August.

“It’s not been too hot of a summer,” Kornegay-LeQuire said. “We think it’s going to be a good year.”

The company ships sweet potatoes year-round, but packing tends to taper off a bit in summer.

“We definitely notice a slowdown in the summer, but this has probably been our busiest summer packing,” she said.

Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C., should kick off its harvest the first week of September with the covington variety, said president Kelley Precythe.

The firm will start digging murasakis, an increasingly popular purple-skin, white-flesh Asian variety, three weeks later, he said.

Precythe said he checked out some fields with the company’s farm manager in early August.

“I was really happy with what I saw,” he said. “We have a good set. We’re looking for a high-quality crop.”

Matt Garber, partner in Garber Farms, Iota, La., said he also was happy with this year’s crop.

“So far so good,” he said in early August. “But until it’s in the barn, we’re nervous.”

Consumer perception of sweet potatoes as a healthful food has resulted in more demand every year, Beck said.