(Aug. 9) A cool, wet spring pushed back the start of the California sweet potato deal, but the heat wave in July shouldn’t hurt quality or reduce yields, grower-shippers said.

Yagi Bros. Produce Inc., Livingston, Calif., kicked off its deal the first week of August, a few days later than usual, with shipments of japanese and o’henry varieties, said Duane Hutton, manager.

Yagi will begin shipping its two mainstays, beauregards and red dianes, in mid-August, with volume expected by Aug. 18, Hutton said.

While predicting yields and quality is largely speculation until sweet potatoes are out of the ground, Hutton said, he did not expect major heat-related problems with this year’s crop.

“As far as we can tell, there’s been no impact,” he said. “The heat came late enough in the season, as long as you have irrigation, it doesn’t cause problems.”

The wet spring pushed back planting several days, Hutton said, raising concerns about quality come harvest. So far, at least, those concerns have proved unfounded.

“The quality so far looks very good,” he said. “With the late start, we kind of wondered what it might have been, but so far we’ve been happy.”

GOOD YIELDS

Despite the late start, yields should be average or above-average, Hutton said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pegged California’s acreage at 2% higher than last year, but Hutton and other grower-shippers thought it was closer to 3% to 4% higher.

“There are no big problems out there that we’re aware of, but we’ll know a bit better later on,” he said.

Hutton said he expects that sluggish market conditions in July and the beginning of August would give way to stronger pricing as the new deal progresses.

Yagi will harvest sweet potatoes for the fresh market through mid-September, then harvest for storage through the first week of November, Hutton said.

PRICES

On Aug. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $14-15 for cured 40-pound cartons of medium sweet potatoes from North Carolina, up from $13-14 last year at the same time.

About 8 million pounds of sweet potatoes were shipped nationwide the week of July 30-Aug. 5, slightly more than in the same time period last year, the USDA reported.

Livingston Farmers Association, Livingston, began shipping japanese sweet potatoes July 18, said Raul Aguilar, sales manager. Reds and beauregards will follow about Aug. 21, and hannas Sept. 8, he said. Harvest will wind up the last week of October or the first week of November.

The deals are late because of a two-week planting delay in the spring, Aguilar said. But he expected quality to be better and volumes higher than last year. Livingston is expected to ship about 12% more sweet potatoes than last year, he said. Potatoes are sizing smaller than last year, however.

J. Hellman Produce Inc., Los Angeles, began shipping its growers’ hannas and other varieties Aug. 7, a typical start, said Chuck Johnson, president. The company’s growers should harvest through October, he said.

Johnson reported good quality and average sizing and volumes. The company shipped 50,000 boxes last year, and he expects a similar total in 2006.