Significant damage to North Carolina’s sweet potato crop is anticipated after Hurricane Florence pounded many areas of the state with double-digit rainfall totals.
Prices for North Carolina sweet potatoes jumped $2 to $14-16 per carton on Sept. 19. The market could edge higher again the week of Sept. 24, said Norman Brown, director of sweet potato sales for Raleigh, N.C.-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC.
For Vick Family Farms, sweet potato harvest is expected to resume the week of Sept. 24 after fields begin to dry out, said Charlotte Vick, partner and sales manager for the Wilson, N.C.-based company.
Vick Family Farms had harvested about 35% of its crop before the rains came, she said.
She said farms near Wilson, N.C., received about 10 to 12 inches of rain, and other parts of the state south and east of their location received 30 to 40 inches of rain. The farm and packinghouse never lost power, she said.
Of the crop still in the field, Vick speculated damage in the Wilson region could range from 25% to 35% of the crop, with growing regions south and east potentially suffering greater damage.
She said she was concerned what the rains will mean for storage quality.
“Sweet potato growers will experience the effects of the hurricane for the next 12 months,” she said. “We will have potatoes in storage that will have had a lot of rain fall on them and sometimes they don’t hold up as well later in the season because of that. It could be months before we really see the true effect of the storm has had on our crop,” Vick said.
Prices have already started to edge higher, Vick said.
“The phone has been ringing and there seems to be demand,” she said.
The company is packing new-crop cured potatoes and is starting to fill orders Sept. 19, she said.
“I think we will be able to tell a little bit more once we get back in and start harvesting, but I do think that North Carolina received a big in a hit from this storm,” Vick said.
Brown, of Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, said some rivers were just cresting Sept. 19 and will remain high through Sept. 20 or so.
“We still have a lot of flooding going on,” he said Sept. 19. With only limited harvest progress so far, growers won’t know damage to the crop until they get back in the field. Old crop supplies of North Carolina sweet potatoes are dwindling, he said, and new crop volume is limited.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that season-to-date shipments of North Carolina sweet potatoes totaled only 200,000 pounds through Sept. 15, off from 7.8 million pounds the same time a year ago.
Many growers are saying it is still too early to tell the amount of damage to the crop, said Kelly McIver, executive director of the Benson-based North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.
“We’re seeing some places only receive six inches and (others) received 20 inches of rain, so it’s a big range,” she said, noting she witnessed some harvest taking place Sept. 18 near Bailey, N.C.
With the delay in harvest because of the heavy rains, growers are hoping for favorable weather conditions through the fall, and no early frost. Sweet potato harvest typically finishes by November, she said.
State officials say it is too early to calculate damage estimates for the state’s crops.
Widespread flooding had made it difficult to get to fields and farms to evaluate damage, said Andrea Ashby, director of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services,
“It is still really, really early and we haven’t got a lot of real good assessment on where things are with our crops at this point,” she said.
In western North Carolina, where tomato harvest was active, Jeanine Davis, an Extension specialist with North Carolina State University, said growers weathered the storm with few problems. Tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, apples and cabbage were being harvested Sept. 19, she said.
“The tomato growers are all out picking and things look pretty good,” she said.