(Oct. 4) Sweet potato growers in the South have had no reprieve from wind and rains caused by a tropical storm and a hurricane that hit the area within one week of each other. They said the storms were causing harvest delays, which could prevent growers from harvesting a full crop.

“Prices now are $11-12.50 f.o.b.,” said Benny Graves, secretary and treasurer of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, Vardaman. “With Isidore and this event, there is pressure for price to move up.”

Hurricane Isidore, which was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit the U.S., hit the Yucatan Peninsula and southern U.S. the week of Sept. 23. Hurricane Lili, once a Category 4 storm, hit Jamaica, Cuba and the southern U.S. the week of Sept. 30.

The two storms also could affect other commodities like Mexican papayas and limes and Jamaican uniq fruit.

Neal Brooks, director of sales for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., said Oct. 3 that the company’s papayas imported from Belize received about eight inches of rain in one day from Isidore.

“It prevented us from spraying, and we did suffer some fruit loss,” Brooks said.

“But we are hearing that Mexico took almost a direct hit. That will result in a gap. Overnight, our demand tripled after the storm.”

Ricardo Rioz, manager of the Edinburg, Texas, office of Bionova Produce Inc., said volume of Mexican papayas would be reduced by 40% through mid-October, and the short supply has caused f.o.b.s to increase from $12 per 35-pound box to $14-15 per box in just a week. Bionova, which has headquarters in Nogales, Ariz., imports its papayas from the Chiapas and Vera Cruz growing regions in Mexico.

Bryce Malone, executive director of the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission, Baton Rouge, said Oct. 2 that the state escaped most of Isidore.

He said some growers got 1 to 2 inches of rain from the storm, but it was beneficial to the crop.

In Mississippi, sweet potato growers estimate they lost 10% or less of the crop from Isidore, which dumped 8 to 10 inches of rain over the state’s sweet potato production area around Vardaman. In Alabama, Leonard Kichler, president of the Alabama Sweet Potato Association Inc., Elberta, said growers would have to do a better job grading the potatoes in the next few weeks because there would be some damage from the 14 inches of rain that fell there.

But the biggest concern sweet potato growers in the South have is whether they would finish harvesting their crop.

As Hurricane Lili, the second weather occurrence, hit the coast of Louisiana the morning of Oct. 3 with 100-mph winds, sweet potato growers were preparing for more rain to delay harvests.

As of Oct. 3, Louisiana and Mississippi were about 45% to 50% harvested. Graves said Isidore only allowed growers 2½ days to harvest during the week of Sept. 30.

“With Lili, we don’t know how much water we will get. Anything above 2 or 3 inches isn’t good. We don’t want to lose any days in October, but we have and we will. (Growers) will have to dig as fast as they can.

“If we get even more weather events, we won’t get all the potatoes out, and the prices will go up,” Graves said.

Some commodities, whose quality or volume weren’t directly affected by the storms, could still experience price fluctuations due to the storms.

Growers shipped additional volumes of Mexican limes assuming there would be shipping delays from Isidore. Dene Iliff, broker at New Mecca Produce, Edinburg, Texas, said that since the storm didn’t cause delays like expected, an oversupply has caused prices to drop from the $5-18 range per 40-pound carton of limes to $3-10 range.