Sweet potato markets tight heading into harvests

07/22/2014 10:57:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Sweet potato prices should stay high until September, when new-crop volume shipments begin.

Markets should stay about where they are until new-crop volumes get into full swing in September, said Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Faison, N.C.-based Southern Produce Distributors Inc.

“The old crop in storage is very short, and demand is good,” Precythe said. “I don’t see prices coming down much before the first or mid-September.”

Benny Graves, executive secretary of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, also expected prices to remain high heading into harvest.

“Supplies are tight and the market’s hot,” Graves said. “That’s a good thing.”

Based on the amount of rain growers endured last season, Precythe was actually surprised that this season’s storage crop has lasted as long as it has.

“The quality has been better than we thought it would be.”

North Carolina plantings this year are expected to cover close to the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate of 66,000 acres, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Benson-based North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.

That’s up from 54,000 acres last season, but close to the 2012 total, Johnson-Langdon said. Acreage was down sharply last year because of rains during planting season.

Southern Produce won’t likely start shipping new-crop sweet potatoes in volume until after Labor Day, Precythe said. As of the week of July 21, all signs were pointing towards a high-quality crop.

“We’ve had good growing conditions — ample rain but not too much.”

Only one hurricane has hit North Carolina this season, and it did most of its damage on the coast, Johnson-Langdon said.

“There have been no huge weather swings.”

Mississippi growers also are looking forward to great quality and yields this year, Graves said.

“We have great plant survival and the plant stands are excellent — always good indicators. We’ve had some timely rains recently.”

Harvests in Mississippi should begin the last week of August, with volumes ramping up in the first week of September. Acreage in the state is up about 1,500 acres this year, Graves said.

Even with the shortage of storage sweet potatoes and the high prices, Southern Produce still hoped to ship cured-to-cured.

“There’s pressure to ship green, but we hope to go right into new-crop cured.”


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