Courtesy Matthews Ridgeview Farms ( Matthews Ridgeview Farms installed new packaging technology last season that allows it to be
more efficient in sizing and packing, says Autumn Campbell, sales manager. )

Hurricane-related flooding caused some loss of harvested sweet potato acreage last year for Wynne, Ark.-based Matthews Ridgeview Farms, but the company expects a better season for 2019.

Autumn Campbell, sales manager for the company, said planting of sweet potatoes was about ready to start in northeast Arkansas in mid-May, despite ample recent rains that have delayed fieldwork.

“We usually get in the fields to plant between May 15 and May 20, so hopefully in the next few days we can go ahead and start that process,” she said.

The firm expects to plant about 3,500 acres of sweet potatoes, including about 250 acres of organic sweet potatoes. The company started with about 120 acres of organic sweet potatoes three years ago. 

“That organic business is building slowly,” she said.

In 2018, the company lost about 600 acres to flooding. That has resulted in thinner inventories of storage sweet potatoes this year.

“The better we can stay on schedule, the better off we will be for this upcoming year,” she said.

Harvest of new crop sweet potatoes typically starts about Sept. 1, and the curing process for newly harvested potatoes takes four to six weeks. Storage inventories are expected to last until the new season crop begins.

“We’re going to be close, but we do think we’re going to avoid a gap,” she said.

Packing technology

The company invested in new packing technology last year, and 2019 will be the second year of its operation, Campbell said.

“(The technology) is more efficient in getting out more specific sizes to your customers’ needs and it is the highest (level) technology and electronic sizing on a packing line right now,” she said. 

That makes meeting demands for customers with tight and demanding specifications easy, she said.

“You can build more business as far as foodservice and (customers) that have real tight specs on their potatoes,” she said. 

The company is considering adding a tray pack carton for sweet potatoes to complement a multitude of bag options.

“We’re always open to taking on new projects like that for customers,” she said. 

“I’m sure it will happen eventually.”