Supplies of sweet potatoes out of North Carolina are ample currently as the industry transitions from old crop to new crop. “We still have a good supply of last year’s sweet potatoes in the market. We’re out of our own crop but the industry has a little bit more than what most like to have at this time of year,” says Steven Ceccarelli, owner of Farm Fresh Produce. “You want to be out almost to the point where it pushes you to harvest the new crop and usually that’s what we see. Usually, by Labor Day weekend, everybody in the sweet potato business is laboring in harvesting.”
Indeed harvest is starting at less of a hurried pace this year due to that crop carryover. Ceccarelli says that historically some growers start as early as the end of August. While some have begun, in the next week to 10 days, the North Carolina sweet potato industry should be well on its way with harvest.
What remains to be seen is how sizeable that 2022-2023 crop will be. “This year, most growers-- knowing they were going into this year being long on supplies--probably wanted to cut back, especially because everybody is having the same problems right now with growing additional costs such as fertilizer, fuel, etc.,” he says. “I would anticipate there’s a significant amount, say 20-25 percent fewer acres, planted than last year. However, the yield of this new crop could sustain it all. The survey is still out as to how the yield is and how it compares to a typical year.”
Domestic vs. export demand
As for demand, it continues to be steady and much of the upcoming focus is on domestic demand given sweet potatoes are a popular item featured in Thanksgiving and Christmas dishes. However, for Farm Fresh Produce, which has an office in the Netherlands as well, 80-85 percent of its turnover is export. It is still currently exporting product though that’s done with a careful eye given it is storage crop being shipped and risks need to be minimized.
What is notable for Farm Fresh Produce is that throughout the pandemic, it has staffed up its office in the Netherlands. However, regulations, travel restrictions and more prevented some of the staff from meeting their U.S. office counterparts face to face--until this week when Farm Fresh Produce is welcoming a Dutch contingent to North Carolina.