In mid-September, many sweet potato farms became busy with this year’s harvest, said Laurie Wood, marketing specialist for the  North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Raleigh.

A few sweet potato varieties were harvested earlier, but the harvest was picking up, Wood said.

“It’s a little bit slow in some areas because we’ve had some cool weather, but that will just mean that the volume won’t get to the peak quite as quickly as it might had we not had that cooler weather,” Wood said.

“According to the National Agricultural Statistics, on Aug. 24 the majority of the crop is good to excellent (64%) with fair being 38% due to spotty rainfall and only 1% reporting as being poor,” Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the  North Carolina SweetPotato Commission, Benson, said in an e-mail.

“Acreage is about the same as last year. As for yields, it is too early to tell yet due to only a small amount of harvesting occurring now,” Johnson-Langdon said.

“Weather, especially rainfall, was variable during this growing season.”

The crop looks nice, said Jimmy Burch Sr., owner of Burch Farms Inc., Faison, N.C.

The company started digging in mid-September. Everything the company has sampled looks nice, and so far it’s a normal crop with no problems.

“This year’s crop is looking pretty good,” said Danny Kornegay, owner of Kornegay Farms, Princeton, N.C.

“It’s a little dry at this time. We need some more rain. As far as the quality, it looks real good.”

“We had a great crop last year. Good quality, good yields. Right now we’re on the same track with that,” said Stewart Precythe, chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C.

“We’ve had an inch to two inches (of rain) this morning and last night throughout eastern North Carolina, so it’s hitting these potatoes perfect.”

The company began digging potatoes in mid-September, Kornegay said.

“Some of the later potatoes aren’t sized up to the size they need to be right now,” Kornegay said.

The volume may be down a little from last year, but the company is running on schedule, Kornegay said.

“It could be as good a crop, if not better, than we had last year. We were dry early on, but we still have a really good set on the potatoes. And we had a really good rain that I think is going to size these potatoes up and we’re going to have a really good crop.”

‘We don’t want to get too much rain,” Precythe said. “We definitely don’t want to get what they’re getting in Louisiana and Mississippi. If we get this rain and don’t get too much, I think it’s going to size this crop up,” he said.

“It seems that the 2009 crop in North Carolina may have had some challenges, not any major challenges, but I think overall we’ve gotten off to a good start with the growing crop,” said George Wooten, president and owner of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C.

“Fresh-market shipments were up dramatically compared to last year (15.5%).

While some of the increase can be attributed to the loss of Louisiana’s crop due to the hurricane, it does not account for all of the increased volume, Johnson-Langdon said.

Burch Farms has 4,200 acres of sweet potatoes.

Wooten is farming about 2,900 acres.

Kornegay grows 100% covington variety.

Southern Produce Distributors is now carrying the covington variety, which has a nice shape and quality.

“It’s a good eating potato — (it) has a good sugar content. It’s very sweet, and we are gaining back a large part of the market share that we had lost to Louisiana and Mississippi,” Precythe said.

“We were growing beauregards, but in the beginning we had trouble.”

“The covington has really taken off in North Carolina and made us competitive in the marketplace with yield, quality and pricing,” Precythe said.

Wooten grows covingtons, beauregards, a white sweet potato variety called o’henry, and a Asian variety called grand Asian, which is a specialty potato.

Sweet potato prices have been steady during the last decade.

Wood and Kornegay said prices so far are about average but it’s still early in the season.

“I think the year-round cured sweet potatoes have contributed to that (steady prices),” Precythe said.

For the last 10 years, sweet potatoes “have been $12-16, mostly $14-15,” Precythe said.

“That’s a price that the grower can live with, and the shipper can live with, and the consumer can live with.”