Sweet potato supplies are tightening in North America this year as farmers wait for the next harvest. Nick VanBerlow of Perlo’s Best, who grows sweet potatoes in both Ontario (Canada) and North Carolina (US), says there are still some areas where the old crop is dwindling, but quality is average. “Harvest is still a month away. We’ll be fine until then, but certainly not by much,” says VanPerlow.
In Ontario, harvest begins in mid-September. “The crop looks great. We are lucky that we haven’t seen as much rain and heat as other parts of the country. We are in good shape so far and if Mother Nature continues to cooperate we are ready.” He says that the area is increasing every year. “We still see a lot of potential in Canada, and we’re just now starting to reap the benefits of our expansion three years ago.”
Less acreage in North Carolina
At the same time, a good harvest is coming in North Carolina. However, the land area in the state has declined drastically. According to VanPerlow, the total is about 20% under-cultivated. “The main reason is global competition. Some export markets, like Egypt and Spain, have enough domestic production after 10 years of growth. Europe is actually a market importing less than half of what it used to be,” he says.
Although demand is steady, July and August are not traditionally the months that see the most movement in the tuber market, says VanBerlow. “People are now looking more at corn, watermelon and tomatoes,” he says. “When the weather changes in the fall, demand starts to pick up by mid-to-late September. That also coincides with Thanksgiving in Canada.”
All of these currently result in large differences in price, quality and delivery depending on the region. However, prices generally keep rising. “It’s getting harder to calculate costs. We haven’t achieved the profit margins we expected in the last two years because costs have risen exponentially,” says VanPerlow. “We’re still figuring out pricing, but we realize we have to be competitive. Of course, you can’t price yourself out of the market.”
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