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Why North Carolina sweet potato pricing could strengthen

The overall supply of North Carolina sweet potatoes is less compared to this time last year. "We had a lot smaller crop in 2023 than we did in 2022 and we ended up getting the entire 2022 crop moved quicker. So the inventory is down," says Thomas Joyner, president of Nash Produce

The smaller crop was a much-needed move for the sweet potato sector. The crop in 2021 was a peak-sized one with about 100,000 acres. By 2022, that dropped to about 80,000 acres and then dropped again to 70,000 acres by 2023 throughout the industry. "It was because, quite simply, nobody was making any money," says Joyner.

He notes that sweet potatoes are a very expensive crop to grow. "Sweet potatoes are hand harvested with no mechanical harvesting. They are also hand transplanted to the field," he says, noting product can also be carried for a year. "So we are shipping out of last year's crop and will be until September to early October," he says, noting in today's economic environment, that also means absorbing the interest costs that come with a carry-in product.

Consumption still growing
Meanwhile demand looks steady and continues to grow. "Year over year, I think we're up 2-3 percent which is a good thing," says Joyner. Easter is also the final holiday of the Thanksgiving-Christmas-Easter trilogy of holidays that often feature the potato. "Easter will be significant. It should be a good pull," he says. "What will determine the inventory throughout the rest of the summer will be what goes over to Europe and so that will be priced accordingly." That means if Easter sees a strong pull and shipments to Europe are steady and even growing, pricing could go up.

Notably, the export window has shortened though. Shipping used to take place from late December into August and now it's more February into July due to Egypt exporting sweet potatoes.

As for pricing, pricing on domestic retail is stronger this year. "This was greatly needed because had they not, the acreage would have been cut again in 2024," says Joyner, noting pricing will likely increase again in the fall due to costs continuing to increase.

For more information:
Nash Produce
Tel: +1 (252) 443-6011