Kumara fetching up to $9 a kilogram is a new reality for starchy vegetable fans in the Bay of Plenty, and it is unlikely to end any time soon.

Wet weather and a labour shortage have been blamed for the spike in retail prices.

John Storie, from John's Produce Centre, said there had been a couple of weeks where "we really couldn't get any kumara at all. It seemed a bit odd because a lot of them had already been dug."

However, demand was still there.

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"But instead of buying them by the kilo, a lot of people are just buying one or two kumara at a time."

Storie said he was selling kumara for between $5.50 and $8.49 per kilo depending on size and variety. Last year prices reached up to $10 a kilo.

Fresh Market owner David Stewart the industry experienced the same issue last year, "although this time around it's a bit earlier".

"I think it [kumara price] could even get higher by the end of the year," he said.

However, Stewart was not too concerned. He said there were always fruit and vegetables up and down in price. While kumara was soaring in price at the moment, pumpkins were among vegetables especially cheap now.

Foodstuffs New Zealand's Antoinette Laird said hot weather made the green plant tops "grow like crazy". When they were dug up, there was not much kumara underneath.

"As a result, it's likely that red kumara will be in short supply all year," she said.

Things are looking slightly better for the orange kumara, she said.

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Prices in Pak'nSave and New World stores currently ranged between $7.69 and $7.99 per kilo.

A Countdown spokeswoman said kumara had experienced "a bit of a tough year due to the warm and wet weather" and prices this week were $8.99.

"Unfortunately it's put a lot of pressure on both supply and price. New season kumara is still being harvested at the moment so it's a bit hard to say how the rest of the season is shaping up as we won't really be able to assess the total supply until it's all out of the ground."

Kumara is nearly all harvested in Northland, but the harvest has been delayed due to what grower Grant Suckling said was "the worst labour shortage in 20 years".

Suckling, president of Northern Wairoa Vegetable Growers' Association, said six from his about 30 labourers were backpackers, but he needed eight more.

Regular kumara harvesting ran from early February until around mid-May, but fewer workers meant it could drag out to July.

Learning from the kumara

The kumara is the subject of an ancient Maori proverb warning against self-praise: Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka, The kumara (sweet potato) does not say how sweet he is.

Source - www.maori.cl

Six fun kumara facts

- Kumara are also known as the sweet potato.

- Most kūmara are grown in Northland in the Northern Wairoa region where soil type and climatic conditions suit kumara perfectly.

- There are different varieties of kumara: gold, red and orange.

- Gold kumara, sometimes sold as Toka Toka, has golden skin and flesh and has a sweeter taste than red.

- The most common is the red-skinned, Owairaka Red, with a creamy white flesh.

Orange kumara or Beauregard kumara has the sweetest flesh.

Source - www.5aday.co.nz