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NC sweet potato supply continues record-setting expansion
“We had some pretty adverse growing conditions,” notes Sam Parker of Gulfstream Produce, a grower/supplier with farms in Lake Park, GA, and Wendell, NC. According to Parker, his growing region in North Carolina was hit hardest. First, extreme heat delayed plantings. That heat then led to a season-long drought, which did not end cease until harvest. At that point, the entire state was hit by an excess of moisture.
Parker says that Gulfstream yields, while affected by the weather, have resulted in strong product. “Despite the adverse growing conditions, crop quality remains excellent.”
84, 000 acres planted state-wide in 2015
Even with the high heat hitting some farmers, and high moisture at harvest affecting the whole state, record-setting acreage made up for the inclement conditions. “Despite all that, there were enough acres planted that supply was abundant.” After setting a North Carolina record in 2014 at 72, 000 acres, the state’s growers beat their own mark this year, with 84, 000 acres of sweet potato planted for the 2015 season.
Parker estimates that in the last five years, demand for North Carolinian sweet potato crop has roughly tripled. Gulfstream and its competitors have planted more and more acres each year as they try to keep pace, and have expanded other aspects of their operations as well. This year, Gulfstream has expanded their storage capacity and are rolling out a new packing line in December.
November market stable
Parker says that increased domestic demand, driven largely by retailer efforts, and an expanding export market have driven the region’s growth. “Retailers have been pushing [sweet potato] as a year-round commodity. They’ve really been doing a great job.” Parker adds that there has been a push from the processing side as well, with an expanding market on products like sweet potato fries and sweet potato-based pet foods.
As for November prices, they’re down slightly compared to this time last year, with prices on 40 lb. units $2.00 lower. For his part, Parker attributes the dip to supply issues in fall of 2014, saying that this year’s market is roughly where it should be. With 40 lb. boxes of his product now selling for $16.00, Parker says he’s comfortable with how the market’s positioned.
“The market’s stable,” he says.
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