Covington dominates North Carolina sweet potato production - The Packer

Covington dominates North Carolina sweet potato production

10/12/2011 10:10:00 AM
Andy Nelson

The covington sweet potato continues to replace the industry standard beauregard in North Carolina at rapid rates.

About 80% of the sweet potatoes harvested this year by Dunn, N.C.-based Godwin Produce Co. will be covingtons, and 20% beauregards, said David Godwin, the company’s owner.

That’s almost a mirror image of Godwin Produce’s varietal makeup just four years ago, when beauregard was still king in the Tar Heel State, Godwin said.

Most consumers can’t tell the difference, taste-wise, between a covington and a beauregard, Godwin said.

Beyond that, all comparisons end — at least as far as North Carolina growers are concerned.

“The shelf life (of covingtons) is so much better,” Godwin said.

“And they have a more uniform shape.”

Both retailers and foodservice purveyors love that uniformity, he said.

Restaurant owners, for instance, don’t like it if two diners sitting side by side order sweet potatoes and one gets a long, oblong spud and the other a short, fat one.

With covingtons, Godwin said, that’s not as much of a concern.

“The foodservice people I talk to like that uniformity a whole lot.”

For Faison, N.C.-based Burch Farms Inc., an estimated 99% of its 2011-12 acreage will be covingtons, said partner Jimmy Burch.

All of its retail shipments are covingtons, he said. The company ships a few jewels and other varieties to select foodservice customers.

Hard to believe, considering that the covington was introduced to North Carolina growers just six years ago, Burch said.

“I imagine at least 85% of the whole state will be covingtons this year,” he said.

Preferable aesthetics

Customers prefer the covington’s short, blocky shape, which resembles a russet, over the longer, less uniform beauregard, Burch said.

The covington also is very sweet and tastes great, he said.

At least 90% of the North Carolina sweet potatoes shipped this season by Faison-based Farm Fresh Produce Inc. will be covingtons, said Steven Ceccarelli, the company’s owner.

One channel in particular favors covingtons over beauregards.

“They’re very popular from a foodservice standpoint,” Ceccarelli said.

Restaurants want to know exactly how much plate space to allocate to each food item, he said. The plate has to be full, but not too full.

Because of covingtons’ uniformity, restaurants know exactly what they’re getting, and they’ve found a space on the plate that fits it perfectly, which can’t be said for the less predictable beauregard.

North Carolina growers love covingtons because they yield so well, Ceccarelli said.

Some North Carolina growers have experimented in recent years with the evangeline variety, Ceccarelli said.

It’s a high-quality spud, he said, but it doesn’t store very well.

“Last year growers weren’t too successful storing them after Jan. 1.”

About 85% to 90% of sweet potatoes grown this year in North Carolina are covingtons, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Smithfield-based North Carolina SweetPotato Commission.

Since gaining ascendancy in the state, the covington’s market share hasn’t budged much, Johnson-Langdon said.

“It’s been pretty consistent for the past three years,” she said.

Other varieties

Beauregard and white-flesh and purple-flesh varieties make up the balance of North Carolina’s sweet potato offerings, Johnson-Langdon said.

Covingtons will account for 90% to 95% of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.’s 2011-12 production, said George Wooten, the company’s owner.

The balance of Wayne E. Bailey’s crop is made up of white, purple, Asian and other specialty varieties — and a nominal amount only of beauregards.

“The covington grows better in North Carolina soils,” Wooten said.



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