Adam Wooten and George Wooten III are a part of a fifth-generation family of growers, George Wooten, president and owner of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., said.
George Wooten III, farm operations manager for the company, deals with the day-to-day growing operations at the grow and Adam Wooten, operations manager, oversees the receiving, packing and shipping of sweet potatoes.
The Wootens’ main crop is sweet potatoes, but the family works with rotational crops of soybeans or cotton, too.
The Wootens began growing sweet potatoes in the 80s, George Wooten III said, but the Wooten sons’ mother’s side of the family has been growing for a while.
The family’s history in the growing business goes back to the Wooten sons’ great-grandfather, Adam Wooten said.
The Wootens started growing when there wasn’t machinery.
“It was all done manually with livestock,” Adam Wooten said.
More growers decide to stop growing every year, and that worries George Wooten.
“We’ve got to encourage people to grow,” George Wooten said. “We’re struggling with what to do here (growing in North Carolina), and a lot of people are giving up farming because they can’t make a living.”
The last statistics that George Wooten and George Wooten III saw stated 2% of the U.S. population was growers.
“I don’t think we want to get in a situation where we are importing a lot of stuff,” George Wooten III said.
Adam Wooten and George Wooten III decided to grow sweet potatoes because they grew up in the business. George worked with his grandfather on small grow jobs during the summer when he was seven.
He has always had a love for growing.
“I just grew up around it and just really enjoyed it and couldn’t see myself doing anything else.
“Even with the challenges now sometimes — it’s not as fun as it used to be — but I just can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Adam Wooten got his degree in agribusiness at North Carolina State University and came back to work with his family.
“I kind of saw the lifestyle as I grew up with the previous generation before me,” Adam Wooten said.
“My family never pushed me into it, and they did show me what a great life it could be, especially if you approach it with the right attitude.”
Although grow work is difficult, the Wooten sons enjoy the challenge and watching the crop grow through the year.
Both said there are a few downsides to growing, though.
Over the last four to five years, the grow has had problems with weeds and insects. Leasing land has gotten harder, and it takes awhile for a crop to be profitable. Labor and food safety regulations are constantly changing, and difficult to maintain.
“Everybody tries to maximize their equipment and do as much as they can with it to spread their costs,” George Wooten III said.
“Input costs have gone up tremendously over the last four or five years. Our cost to produce an acre of potatoes has pretty much doubled in the last four years.”
George Wooten III said he thinks some people leave the business because the job is difficult.
“There are certain times of the year where there are lots of long hours and you are at the mercy of the weather and a lot of things you cannot control,” he said.
“The equipment costs are extremely high.”
“It’s hard for them (new growers) to get finances to start out with,” George Wooten III said.
Adam Wooten thinks many people who start growing could get frustrated with things that are out of the grower’s control, such as weather or pests that may destroy the crop.
“If you pursue this type of profession it’s very challenging, but the rewards can definitely outweigh the frustrations sometimes and the challenges,” Adam Wooten said.
George Wooten III hopes consumers will support the agricultural industry.
“There are a lot of regulations that make it harder, and I know there are some growers that do not do what they are supposed to, but most of your growers in America, they have pride in what they do, and they want to do the best they can,” he said.
George Wooten III wants future generations of the family to grow.
Adam Wooten said it is nice to have his family close by for support and help.
“I wouldn’t have chosen another profession. I’m happy I went down this path.”