Last week, massive quantities of rain fell in the eastern part of North Carolina thanks to the remnants of Tropical Storm Nichole. Many parts of the state, from the Piedmont to the coast saw rainfall in the double digits, and while it was a welcome relief for some drought-stricken areas, it couldn’t have come at a worse time of year for many eastern crops.
For the most part, the die had been cast for many crops, but not so for sweet potatoes. Kent Messick, NCDA, Agronomic Division, Section chief for field services:
“Well, I think that the two crops that we’re most concerned with right now, first would probably be sweet potatoes, and the second would be peanuts. Sweet potatoes, if the soil is waterlogged for too long you have anaerobic soil conditions and so the sweet potato physically begins to deteriorate. So, that’s our big concern with that crop. There’s also a some potential, with the dry weather we had earlier this year, there could be some fertilizer that was not utilized due to the drought, so, there could be some late growing spurts of the plant by having excess fertilizer and adequate moisture, could cause some cracking problems with the sweet potatoes if they’re not harvested very quickly.”
2010 saw the largest acreage ever planted to sweet potato.
While it’s considered that as much as 10% of the crop is lost to the flooding, Messick says that it could be weeks or months before the actual damage to the sweet potato crop is known:
Well, I think we’ll have a much better idea by the end of this week; very quickly, growers will be able to get back into fields, and they’ll begin to dig.
“The other potential problem is that sometimes it’s very difficult to tell with sweet potatoes, you harvest them, and get them into storage and then because you actually store them for some length of time before most of them are likely to be utilized, you could find that after you put all this effort into it, they start to deteriorate in storage itself, so then you get the potatoes out of storage you find out you have a loss of sweet potatoes even from that point. So, it’s really sad then because you’ve already put your maximum expenses into it at that point.”
North Carolina is the largest grower of sweet potatoes in the United States.
We’ll chat further with NCDA’s Kent Messick tomorrow on Inside Agriculture... click here.