While there were sufficient supplies of organic sweet potatoes for the Thanksgiving pull, with the same expected to hold true for the Christmas holiday, overall quality and yield issues have driven the market price up.
Frank Mesa, who sits on the sales desk for Garcia Farms Produce in Livingston, CA, said “we have organic sweet potatoes if asked, but we weren’t promoting them because we don’t want to run out.”
Quail H sweet potato field
Mesa that in the run-up to Thanksgiving, a conventional 40-pound carton of sweet potatoes was selling for about $24 while the organic counterpart had a market price of $40. Mesa said a similar gap should prevail through the Christmas holiday with the market continuing to increase after the first of the year.
Larelle Miller, sales manager of Quail H Farms LLC, also in Livingston, concurred with Mesa’s assessment. She explained that the California sweet potato crop begins its harvest in September with digging lasting well into November. That production is then marketed from storage throughout the year until next year’s crop. She noted that yields for both the conventional and organic crops were down this year. On the organic side, that could mean a gap next summer as the 2019 crop could be exhausted before the 2020 crop is ready to harvest.
Larelle Miller, sales manager, Quail H Farms LLC
Miller said that scenario did play out this year, as there was a gap in organic supplies this August. While both Quail H and Garcia Farms--- and other California growers---- have increased their organic sweet potato acreage, decreased yields and quality issues may very well result in a shortage.
In fact, Miller said that is precisely why the f.o.b. price is expected to increase after the Christmas pull. Grower-shippers will undoubtedly check their organic sweet potato inventories and determine that only a higher price will help stifle demand and help the crop last at least into late summer.
Miller said about 25 percent of Quail H Farms’ sweet potato acreage is devoted to organic production…and that’s still not enough. She said the sweet potato category continues to grow with both conventional and organic sweet potatoes gaining favor in the foodie community. She added that the two weeks prior to Thanksgiving are the two biggest shipping weeks of the year for sweet potatoes. But the item has a devoted core of customers throughout the year.
Miller noted that while sweet potatoes and yams hold their own for Christmas, the second most popular holiday for consumption is actually Easter. With its April 12 date in 2020, there will be sufficient organic sweet potatoes to fill demand, but the market price will probably be even higher than it was for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
“Retailers have to carry organic sweet potatoes and yams because their customers want them,” Mesa said. “We have to increase production to fill that demand. It’s just something we have to do…consumers want it and it’s better for Mother Earth.”