(Sept. 12) Hopes were high — and so were the markets — as the first digging got under way in Louisiana sweet potato fields in late August.

Growers are looking ahead to a better-than-average crop and hoping that the rains would spare their fields until the deal winds down in early November.

“It looks good, but we really don’t know what kind of sizing we’re going to have,” said Johnny Roy, sales manager for Hessmer, La.-based Earl Roy Sweet Potato Co. LLC. “We’ve had a lot of rain, and it was during the growing period.”

Record rainfall — some areas of the state received as much as 12 inches in early July — left some growers, including Roy, wondering how the crop would finish.

But a sustained hot, dry spell through August buoyed hopes, he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to hurt the quality of the potato, but I don’t think it’s going to be as big as usual,” he said. “It’s going to take some time for them to size up.”

Beauregards comprise about 99% of Louisiana’s sweet potato production.

The July rains delayed the major digging about two weeks, Roy said.

“We’ve got a few started,” he said.

Wayne Garber, a partner in Garber Farms Inc., Iota, La., said he also was anticipating a good crop.

“It’s a decent crop coming, and our usual issues in the growing season is that the crop is coming on, and this heat wave went up a little bit,” he said. “We’re kind of delaying our digging right now during the heat wave. We’re mostly concentrating on irrigating, trying to just maintain the right conditions.”

Digging at Garber Farms got underway in the last week of August, or about two weeks behind the normal schedule, he said.

“Hundred-degree heat tends to slow them down a little bit,” Garber said. “We had some rain earlier, and that slows them down a little bit, as well. But really, when it comes down to it, the crop is more or less on schedule.”

Roy Hansen, sales manager of Delhi, La.-based Dawson Farms LLC, shared the optimism.

“We haven’t had any problems yet, but last year, we didn’t have any until October,” he said, referring to rainfall late in last year’s deal that wiped out as much as a quarter of the crop statewide.

Quality wasn’t an issue last year, Malone said.

“We were having really good yields, but a lot of potatoes were planted late due to a wet spring, and they just weren’t able to get a lot of it out of the ground.”