FAISON, N.C. — Growers began harvesting this season’s North Carolina sweet potato crop a little earlier than normal, but buyers should expect a normal fall start.

North Carolina sweet potato season gets off to an early startSome growers started harvesting small volumes in mid- to late August, about two weeks ahead of usual.

The deal normally begins in heavy volume in early September.

“This is the most beautiful crop I’ve ever seen,” Carson Barnes, president of Spring Hope-based Farm Pak, said in early September.

“We should have good to extra-good yields,” Barnes said. “The shape is beautiful in both our main varieties, the covingtons and evangelines. We have a good crop on the way.”

After starting harvesting Aug. 19, Barnes Farming Corp. had dug 300,000 bushels up until Sept. 4.

He called volume normal and said the season was going strong Sept. 4.

Barnes said some fields had wet growing conditions, affecting the shape of the sweet potatoes, but the overall crop wasn’t affected.

Barnes expects to finish the fresh harvest by Nov. 10.

Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., plans to finish shipping the 2011 crop at the end of September and begin new season shipments of cured sweet potatoes in early October.

“Based on the way we see it, everything should be connected just right for the transfer of the 2011 crop to the 2012 crop,” George Wooten, Wayne E. Bailey’s president, said in early September. “It should be just right for the holidays and give retailers big opportunities for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other opportunities for fall and winter merchandising.”

Wooten said retailers should expect shipments comparable to last season’s.

Shippers, including Thomas Joyner, general manager of Nashville-based Nash Produce Co., say acreage should be similar to last year. North Carolina growers planted about 64,000 acres.

“Quality is good and yields are good,” Joyner said in early September.

Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C., said growers are saying acreage may be a little lower than last season.

“In North Carolina, the season looks really good,” he said in early September. “We have had ample rain.”

Southern Produce Distributors began harvest Sept. 3.

In late August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $13-15 for 40-pound boxes of orange variety No. 1s from North Carolina, down from $16 the USDA reported last year in early October for the first of the 2011 new crop shipments.