Whether they got lucky with rain or had to rely more on their irrigation systems, Southern sweet potato growers expect good quality and yields heading into the 2012-13 season.

Rain was scarce in some sweet potato growing regions, but it was often timely, said Mike Kemp, vice president of brand development at Nixa, Mo.-based Market Fresh Produce LLC.

Heat doesn’t cause damage

“While the first part of the season for the Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana acreage was pretty dry, they got the rain they needed in time for a successful crop,” Kemp said. “North Carolina had lots of rain throughout the growing area, but nothing to cause alarm so far.”

Mother Nature also has been kind to Burch Farms Inc., Faison, N.C., this summer, partner Jimmy Burch Sr. said.

“The growing weather’s been great,” Burch said. “This is one year where we’ve had plenty of rain. Normally we have a lot of dry periods. It’s been hot, but sweet potatoes like it hot.”

Burch also said he hasn’t seen any damage to crops from adverse weather conditions.

Wynne, Ark.-based Matthews Ridgeview Farms hasn’t been as lucky with rains, but irrigation has supplied enough moisture to guarantee a high-quality 2012 crop, co-owner Kim Matthews said.

“We’ve had a dry year just like everybody else, but we’ve had irrigation, the quality and color look great and the sizing is on track,” Matthews said Aug. 14.

Dawson Farms, Delhi, La., enjoyed abundant rainfall around planting time, and irrigation has helped make up for drier conditions since, saleswoman Eva Dawson said.

“It’s been nice and ideal,” she said. “We plan on getting in early.”

That likely will be late the week of Aug. 20, two or three weeks earlier than typical, Dawson said.

Good quality, quantity

Cured product likely will begin shipping from Dawson Farms the week of Sept. 17, Dawson said.

Occasionally, Dawson Farms is forced to ship uncured sweet potatoes, Dawson said. Fortunately, that she won’t happen this season.

“We don’t anticipate shipping any green,” she said. “It’s not our favorite thing to do.”

Dawson Farms’ 2012 acreage, at 2,900 acres, is unchanged from last year, Dawson said. The company expects to ship cured-to-cured, with good quality from the beginning.

“We’re very pleased with our quality,” she said. “It’s sizing up nicely.”

Dawson Farms is working with Louisiana State University on new varieties.

“We’ve planted some test plots, and those plots look promising,” Dawson said.

While it was still early in the season, early reports on the quality of Southern sweet potato crops have been positive, Kemp said.

It’s still too soon to tell whether Market Fresh crops will ship cured-to-cured, but early indications suggest it’s a strong possibility, Kemp said.

“Most of the growers we use are saying they should have enough old crop to last until late October or early November, which will allow this year’s crop to fully cure.”

Market Fresh expects to market more sweet potatoes this season, a fact that dovetails with the company’s expected sales gains, Kemp said.

Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, also will ship cured-to-cured and expects to have new-crop cured by about Oct. 1.

In general, growing weather has been excellent this year, with good quality and high yields expected, Precythe said.

The one potential wrinkle could be in the early-set potatoes, which typically are the best of the season, he said.

“The set was not that good,” which could affect yields, he said.

Matthews Ridgeview expects to begin harvesting in late August or early September, with volumes expected to start hitting about the second week of September, right on time, Matthews said.

Matthews Ridgeview’s acreage is up about 10% this year, as the company readies new ground for sweet potato plantings. That’s a smaller annual increase than the company has seen in recent years, Matthews said.

Burch Farms’ acreage is similar to last year, Burch said. The company began harvesting the week of Aug. 13, about two weeks ahead of schedule.

Burch Farms expects to begin shipping cured new-crop potatoes about mid-September, Burch said. The company expects to ship cured-to-cured, with no green spuds expected in the pipeline this fall.

“They’ll take them if they have to, but nobody wants green,” Burch said.

A 15,000-square-foot building, a bagger and an optical sorter are among the additions Burch Farms has made in preparation for this season, Burch said.

“The sweet potato business has been very good to Burch Farms,” he said.

Wayne E. Bailey Produce, Chadbourn, N.C., expects to have new-crop cured product ready to ship by mid-September to early October, president George Wooten said.