Southern Produce Distributors Inc. has long been a major player in the sweet potato industry.

In 2016 the Faison, N.C.-based company is taking a big step forward with its squash program, which should kick off in mid-June, with product shipping through July.

“This year we’re increasing our squash acreage pretty heavily,” said Kelley Precythe, vice president. “It works well with our sweet potato program.”

To keep up with ever-expanding demand for sweet potatoes, Southern Produce recently added another packing line, which includes an electronic sizer. The line will help keep up with demand by increasing production and reducing labor costs.

To go along with that, Southern Produce also wrapped up construction of a facility that will increase its storage capacity by 20% and provide cooling capability for year-round shipping.

The focus of all that work was on the company’s staple crop, sweet potatoes, but its squash program also will benefit, Precythe said.

“The storage of sweet potatoes goes hand-in-hand with the storage of squash. The timing is good, and both can be stored in the same rooms.”

All squash varieties shipped by Southern Produce will see big increases, with spaghetti and butternut leading the way, Precythe said.

The expansion of the program won’t end in 2016.

“It’s going to be a strong program, volumes are going to be good, and we’re looking to grow it more.”

Southern Produce will ship its 2016 crop under the Pointer label established by Precythe’s grandfather, Harold Precythe, who founded the company in 1942.