A lighter 2013 crop has generated robust demand for U.S. sweet potatoes, and prices will likely rise even more.

“Supplies are real tight on sweet potatoes in storage, and the market should be on the rise for the next few weeks,” George Wooten, president of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., said Feb. 17.

Mississippi sweet potato growers should have product through summer, but it won’t be plentiful, said Benny Graves, executive secretary of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council.

Demand this winter has been strong despite a series of snowstorms and other weather events that have plagued the Eastern U.S. and made transportation a challenge, Graves said.

“Supplies are tight and they’re getting tighter,” Graves said. “We’ve seen excellent movement since Thanksgiving. It’s good and bad. Higher prices are good, but it’s not good if we can’t meet the demand out there.”

That said, Graves was confident Mississippi shippers would adjust schedules so they do have sweet potatoes up until new crop spuds begin shipping later this year.

Some growers will likely plant earlier this year, though, because of the smaller 2013-14 crop.

Supplies are lower this season for a couple of reasons, Wooten said. One, a huge 2012 crop led growers to think there would be a fair amount of carry-over into the 2013 crop.

Growers planted less accordingly, but strong demand in the latter part of the 2012-13 deal allayed those concerns. In addition, Wooten said, weather-related issues in the spring of 2013 further reduced the size of the 2013-14 crop.

As a result, demand has exceeded supply this season, particularly on larger sweet potatoes, Wooten said.

“The market for jumbos is double what it was last year at this time,” he said.

The sweet potato market will eventually plateau, Wooten said, but as of mid-February, he didn’t know when that would be.

Graves reported excellent quality through mid-February.

“I’m tickled with what we’re packing out,” he said. “We continue to get calls from all corners, domestic and exports. We’re in a pretty good mood.”

Wooten also reported good quality on the storage crop shipping in February.