The shorter crop should translate to higher sweet potato prices this fall, according to grower-shippers in southern states.

Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C., expects to see prices back up where they were several years ago.

“For the last two years, we’ve seen prices be down to two or four dollars below the average price, but I think this year it should be closer to where it was three or four years ago,” he said

Jimmy Burch Sr., partner, Burch Farms Inc., Faison, N.C., agrees prices have been significantly down.

“Last year was the biggest crop and lowest prices in recent history,” he said.

Of course, it all depends on supply and demand.

“Supply and demand always dictates the prices, and since Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina all have less acreage, we may see higher prices,” Precythe said.

Kendall Hill, co-owner of Tull Hill Farms, Kinston, N.C., expects to see prices rise even before the new harvest begins.

“I don’t think supply will be enough to meet the demand, which normally drives the price up. The crop from last year is already practically out in North Carolina,” Hill said.

“Some shippers are already out, and others finished up this week,” he said August 20.

A later harvest because of rain delays could mean a gap in some places.

“I don’t think we’ll dig before Sept. 21,” Hill said.

Mike Kemp, business analyst for Market Fresh Produce, Nixa, Mo., says this issue could cause a pinch in the next few weeks.

“Given the inventory of the 2012 crop and the new 2013 crop coming in later this year, we will not see any real overlap, which may cause some scrambling for good product,” Kemp said.

Still, this season is very much a mystery right now.

“It’s all undetermined because the crop is underground, and we can’t see what is going to happen. We can get some ideas, but we won’t know until the harvest starts,” Precythe said.

“We should see higher prices this year, maybe three or four dollars higher at the start of the market,” said George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Inc, Chadbourn, N.C.

However, prices near the end of the season are likely to be even higher as supplies dwindle in the spring and summer.

“Depending on the demand, we could see a $6 or $7 increase in late spring and summer,” Wooten said.