Sweet potato growers appear set to make up for the rainy spring last year. Acreage of sweet potatoes in 2013 was reduced considerably because of rain during the planting season, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. Farmers wound up with 15 percent less than the year before. That lead to a shortfall in production, and that in turn lead to buyers very anxious to get a full crop in the ground in 2014.

Johnson-Langdon expects plantings this season of above 60,000 acres, which would be in the normal range. “Our farmers seem optimistic about this crop,” she said. “Besides our established growers, there is some interest among new growers.”

Those growers may be on the market for new machinery, but Johnson-Langdon said established growers probably have the equipment they need already.

There is one piece of sweet potato machinery you can't buy at any price. “We have never had a viable mechanical harvester,” she said. “Harvest still has to be done by hand, and it is very labor intensive.”

Tobacco contracts slow

The market signals for tobacco were confusing. On paper, it seemed that there should be a hot contract market for their product, since production fell so short in the wet summer of 2013. But after a strong start, the contracting pace slowed considerably in early February.

“There is some concern about the apparent cutback on contracts,” said Tom Pharr, CEO of MarCo manufacturing, which produces tobacco harvesting equipment. “A month ago there was great optimism among the farmers. Now there is less.”

Farmers who want more tobacco are finding it hard to acquire, and new growers are getting no encouragement as yet, said Rick Smith, president of Independent Leaf Tobacco Co. “But hopefully everyone who wants a contract will have one at the end."

The president of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina suggested “the spike in prices in 2013 may prove not to be the new norm.”

Brent Leggett, Nashville, N.C., said, “A farmer would be ill advised to begin pouring concrete and purchasing barns based on the expectation that 2013 prices are now normal...it is important to recognize this market fluctuation as not being much different from $8 corn a year ago or $1.25 cotton a few seasons back. What are those prices today?”