BASTROP, La. (AP) _ Traditional sweet potato dishes will likely grace fewer tables this holiday season.

Hurricane Floyd's destruction of vegetable crops in North Carolina put Louisiana sweet potatoes in high demand nationwide, resulting in higher prices.

North Carolina, which produces about 36,000 acres of sweet potatoes, lost close to a third of its crop after Floyd blasted the state two months ago, according to Sue Langdon, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Association.

The loss translates to about a 20 percent reduction in supply and an increase in cost, said Ken Thornhill, chairman of the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission.

``Louisiana growers will be called upon to fill in for the shortfall in certain places,'' said Thornhill, who expects about a fourth of the nation's sweet potato crop to be sold during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Getting through Thanksgiving and Christmas will be tough, with an expected shortage of 3 million boxes from North Carolina's loss, but Thornhill said the real shortage will occur from Easter to early summer.

``There may be even fewer sweet potatoes on the grocery shelves at that point,'' he said.

Travis Rawls, assistant farm manager for Jerry-Co Farms in Bastrop, said his company looks good this year with its 1,100 acres of sweet potatoes, and he is grateful.

``We've had an excellent digging season. With the North Carolina crop down, we're starting to see the prices increase a little,'' Rawls said.

According to statistics from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, one bushel of sweet potatoes is selling for between $15 and $15.50, and Rawls said his company gets 300 to 350 bushels per acre.

Marty Haley, an Oak Grove sweet potato farmer, said he does not expect Louisiana farmers to fill the void entirely, and an increase in price would be good for farmers who have sweet potatoes to sell.

``We'll probably see fewer sweet potatoes on tables at Thanksgiving and Christmas,'' Haley said.


SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ Pakistan's purchase of 18.4 million bushels of wheat from Australia is another dose of bad news for Pacific Northwest wheat growers suffering from a two-year price slump, industry officials say.

The deal announced Monday caused prices to drop again, and has the region's growers worried that their counterparts Down Under are snatching away a top export market.

``With prices already below the cost of production, I don't have to spell out how devastating this is to Washington's wheat industry,'' Phil Isaak, chairman of the Spokane-based Washington Wheat Commission and a Coulee City wheat farmer, said Tuesday.

Australia has been trying to make inroads for years on the U.S. wheat industry's dominance in Pakistan, and the new deal could set a precedent for future purchasing decisions by the South Asian nation, said Tom Mick, chief executive officer of the Washington Wheat Commission.

``We don't see anything positive on the horizon,'' Mick said.

Pakistan bought 37 percent of the Northwest's wheat crop in 1997, making it the region's top customer. Pakistan slipped to No. 2 last year, behind Egypt.

Pakistan blends U.S. soft white wheat _ the variety the majority of Northwest farmers grow _ with its domestic wheat to make naan, a flat, thin bread.