Sweet potatoes marketing business updates

03/19/2014 03:12:00 PM
Jim Offner

Burch Farms

Faison, N.C.-based sweet potato grower-shipper Burch Farms, which grows on about 1,500 acres, is planning to up its acreage by about 10% in 2014, said Jimmy Burch, owner.

There are other changes planned, too, Burch said.

“We put in another new optical sorter — it takes a picture of it and takes out the defects,” he said.

The company also installed new baggers from Vidalia, Ga.-based Giro Pack Inc. in time for the 2013 September-October harvest, Burch said.

California Sweet Potato Council

The Livingston-based California Sweet Potato Council launched a website, www.casweetpotatoes.com, in December, said Sarah Alvernaz, a member of the council’s board and general manager of grower-shipper California Sweet Potato Growers in Livingston.

It’s part of an effort by the council to engage in consumer marketing activity “for the first time in a while,” Alvernaz said.

The council has gotten some guidance in the effort from the San Francisco office of global public relations firm Ketcham West, Alvernaz said.

“We wanted to basically get a fresh look and new foundation for our consumer marketing, so we created a new council logo and website and established our social media presence through Facebook and Pinterest,” Alvernaz said.

The council’s web activity was “minimal” before, Alvernaz said.

“We were on it but it was kind of one of those things that was just there and our investment was kind of minimal,” she said.

Now, that has changed, she said.

“We’re wanting to point out why, for example, you’d want to pay a little more for a California sweet potato, with a better skin and cleaner shape,” she said “It’s not to detract from any demand from any other state, but from a trade perspective, with California sweet potatoes, there is a significant difference to what’s grown back East.”

The council also is stepping up marketing in other areas, said Jason Tucker, a council member.

It’s about showcasing uniqueness, he said.

“California’s sandy soil, green environment, and warm-dry climate provide the perfect fit for a better sweet potato, not to mention the beautiful shape and rich colorful skin,” Tucker said in a news release.

The council has unveiled a new logo, too, Tucker said.

California Sweet Potato Growers

California sweet potato industry pioneer “Sweet Potato Joe” Alvernaz, 93, died in November in a nursing home.

Alvernaz co-founded grower-shipper California Sweet Potato Growers Co-op with several partners in 1963. The company now is run by his sons, Jim and Ben, and grandson Matthew Alvernaz.

Joe Alvernaz, who was active in Livingston community organizations, served as president of the California Sweet Potato Council, as well as the U.S. Sweet Potato Council, of which he was a director for 10 years.

Alvernaz was the first California farmer to attend the National Sweet Potato Convention. He also served as president of the Merced County Farm Bureau and was a board member of the Nisei Farmers League.

Alvernaz enlisted in the U.S. Marines in World War II. His nickname, “Sweet Potato Joe” was given to him by his fellow Marine and close friend, the late actor Brian Keith.

Preceding Alvernaz in death was his wife of 64 years, Florence. She died in 2006.

Survivors include five children, a sister, 17 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

“Joe did a lot for the sweet potato industry,” said Sarah Alvernaz, wife of Matthew Alvernaz and general manager of California Sweet Potato Growers. “He’s definitely one of the pioneers, for sure.”

Garber Farms

Technology continues to be a focus at Iota, La.-based sweet potato grower-shipper Garber Farms, said Matt Garber, partner.

Garber said the company continues to add “computer controls” to its warehouse space.

LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station

The Louisiana State University AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station released two new varieties in 2013, said Tara Smith, extension specialist with the Chase-based organization.

Breeder Don La Bonte unveiled the Burgandy, a variety with red skin and “deep-orange” flesh, which Smith described as having “exceptional quality and a high sucrose content that is comparable to the Evangeline variety” and is “extra sweet.” She noted it “stores extremely well.”

The second variety, known as LA 06-52, has not yet been named, Smith said.

“This variety has strong uniformity with shape qualities and an attractive cooper skin,” she said, noting that it also has a mild flavor and is suited to baking.

The center also has hired a new sweet potato specialist, Louisiana native Mavis Finger, who joined the organization in August.

Finger will take up former responsibilities of Smith, who accepted a new position as Northeast regional director with the LSU AgCenter in February 2013. In her new job, Smith oversees research and extension programs for 12 parishes and three research stations in the region, including the Sweet Potato Research Station.

Smith also is research coordinator at the Sweet Potato Research Station and the Sweet Potato Foundation seed program.

The Sweet Potato Research Station will host a field day Aug. 7, featuring updates on production, varieties and pest management. More information will be available on the station’s website in coming months.

Mississippi Sweet Potato Council

The Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council is marking its 50th anniversary in 2014, said Benny Graves, executive secretary.

The council was organized in 1964 by grower-shipper J.R. Penick and Chester Hines, extension agent for Mississippi State University, when the business was beginning to evolve into its modern form, Graves said.

“Farming was changing and it was time to get some info shared among farmers how to grow new varieties and grow better,” he said, noting that the council has focused chiefly on promotion, as well as cultural practices and variety development.

Nash Produce

Nashville, N.C.-based Nash Produce is contemplating a possible expansion of its line of packaging to meet growing demands, said Thomas Joyner, president.

There are ongoing efforts in the area of food safety and sustainability, as well, Joyner said, noting that the company already meets all requirements of the Produce Traceability Initiative.

“We continue to work with our growers to make the most environmentally friendly practices and so forth, and we’re trying to make it work for everybody from the growers all the way to consumers and be well pleased with the product,” Joyner said.

U.S. Sweet Potato Council

The U.S. Sweet Potato Council is moving from Columbia, S.C., and is getting a new leader.

“I’m 75, and it’s time to retire,” said Charles Walker, who stepped down as executive secretary Feb. 10.

The council’s board of directors is searching for a permanent successor. Meanwhile, Jamie Earp, a partner in Earp Farms, Houlka, Miss., and president of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council in Vardaman, is serving as interim executive secretary of the national council.

“Our main focus will remain on education, promotion and lobbying,” Earp said.

The council’s preference is to find a permanent leader from inside the sweet potato industry, but the search committee will consider a candidate from outside, Earp said.

Wayne E. Bailey Produce

Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co. has hired Andy Pope as its chief operating officer, said George Wooten Jr., the company’s owner.

Pope, who had worked with the company in a production role for three years, returned to the company in February after having taken a job outside the industry seven years ago, Wooten said.

Pope fills a new position, Wooten said.

“I’m CEO, and I brought him on to assist me in managing my managers,” he said, noting that the company has Mike McGursky as chief financial officer; Adam Wooten, who is operations manager; George Wooten III, who manages the company’s Columbus County, N.C., division; and Roger Lane, who heads up the Mason County, N.C., location.

Yagi Bros. Produce

Convenience is taking on increased emphasis at Livingston, Calif.-based Yagi Bros. Produce Inc., said Duane Hutton, manager.

“We’re really emphasizing the easy preparation, the nutritional value and the variety of colors and tastes available for California sweet potatoes,” he said.



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