(Sept. 26) The North Carolina sweet potato crop, soaked by midsummer rains, was spared further watery woe by Hurricane Isabel, which focused its fury on other parts of the state and the mid-Atlantic.

In fact, the storm actually helped many of the Tar Heel State’s growers of sweet potatoes and other fall crops. By the end of August, a bone-dry late summer had many praying for a shower or two. Isabel delivered, dropping enough rain to help but not enough to drown too many fields — and so make a tight supply chain even tighter.

Grower-shippers in the heart of the North Carolina sweet potato belt reported just 1-5 inches of Isabel rain, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, Smithfield.

“Isabel produced a lot of wind, but not a lot of water,” Johnson-Langdon said. “There is a lot of devastation to homes and some crops in North Carolina, especially field corn, but not to sweet potatoes and other produce commodities.”

Isabel was nothing compared to Hurricane Floyd, Johnson-Langdon said. Floyd dumped as much as 20 inches of rain on North Carolina’s sweet potatoes in 1999. Still, enough Isabel rain fell to put a slightly bigger dent in the state’s already depleted supply. Before Isabel, the crop was expected to be about 25% smaller than last year, Johnson-Langdon said. Now that figure is closer to 30%.

“Supplies will be very tight, but it’s not an unmanageable situation,” Johnson-Langdon said.

The deal is still running about four weeks behind schedule and will still end for most grower-shippers around Nov. 1, she said.

One to 4 inches of Isabel rain were reported in fields harvested by Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, said George Wooten, president.

“We were very fortunate,” Wooten said. “Before Isabel, it was so dry and sandy it was hard to walk in the fields. We needed the showers.”

In July and August, too much rain kept North Carolina sweet potatoes from sizing up. Ironically, just before Isabel, their growth was in danger of being stunted by too little rain, Wooten said.

Isabel didn’t slow the harvest at all, Wooten added. In order to assess what, if any, damage had been done, Bailey didn’t pick the day after the storm, a Friday. But in hindsight, Wooten said, the fields were harvestable even that day.