Early Sweet Potato Harvest in America in Full Swing
The first sweet potatoes are being harvested sooner than usual in the United States, due to a mild spring and good growing conditions through the summer and into the fall. While the USA normally supplies sweet potatoes 12 months a year, the 2013 harvest was completely sold out, so an early harvest is welcome.
Sweet potatoes grow best in sub-tropical weather, which means that most of the output in the United States comes from the nation’s southeast. North Carolina is the main producer.
Quality and quantity of the harvest is considered very good this season. During the beginning of September all growers were busy harvesting, and the last sweet potatoes will be dug during the final week of October.
The USA harvests, on average, 977,000 tons per annum. The European market counts on American imports for almost 50% of its sweet potato supplies, which enter both retail and foodservice markets as well as the industrial further processing sector which makes frozen sweet potato fries.
Hand Harvesting the Norm
In the spring, sweet potato roots are placed into soil beds to produce plants that are later transplanted into the fertile fields during the summer months. As sweet potatoes are susceptible to damage, hand harvesting is preferred.
According to John Barnes, president of the American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute (ASPMI), the quality, taste and skin finish of the new crop is excellent. The pulled tubers will be stored in special barns at the farms that have controlled temperature and humidity, and will be sent to Europe as needed until the next crop arrives the following autumn. European consumers prefer US sweet potatoes for their shape, flesh color and taste. The Covington, Orleans and Beauregard variety are the most popular.
In the USA demand for sweet potatoes has grown rapidly due to their nutritional benefits. Consumption among Americans, now at nearly 3.5 kilograms per capita, has increased by approximately 300% over the past decade.
In northern Europe, sweet potatoes are still a minor category. However it is one that is growing every year. At the moment the market in the EU is estimated at 70,000 tons.