“This season’s harvesting began on August 16 and will continue through the end of October,” said Stephanie Williams, domestic sales and marketing manager for Scott Farms Inc. in Lucama, NC. “In terms of weather, the overall season has seen plentiful: above-average rainfall; midsummer was very hot, but we had a fairly temperate spring and a milder late summer.
“The warm spring allowed for early planting and near-perfect plant stands,” she continued. “The quality of our plants, both in our greenhouses and plant beds, was the best we’ve had in years, which led to a sufficient and excellent overall plant supply.”
Scott Farms is expecting a crop with average yields and good quality with nice sizing and appearance. Ms. Williams said that overall yields are slightly down from last year, which was not totally expected due to sufficient rainfall.
“However, the younger Covington variety is typically grown in consistently hotter, drier weather conditions,” she explained. “It is safe to say that this growing season has seen the most rainfall to date since Covington sweet potatoes have been planted widely across North Carolina.”
Scott Farms’ acreage has increased steadily over the past few years in an effort to meet the growing demand. Ms. Williams said that overall, the industry ran a little heavier on the 2011 crop inventory.
“We had a solid supply throughout the entire season,” she said. “This allowed us to service our customers with a consistent and quality product throughout the year, so we are sticking with the same plan for the coming season.”
Domestically, Scott Farms’ business has quadrupled in the past two years. Ms. Williams said its retail and foodservice markets continue to grow throughout the East Coast, as does its wholesale and processing-grade distribution.
“We are also expanding into the Midwest, which is a newer market for us,” she added. “This growth in our distribution network allows us to handle about 2,500 acres of sweet potatoes each year for our customers.”
Scott Farms is among the leaders in U.S. sweet potato exports. It has been exporting for 10 years.
“Our subsidiary company, Scott Farms International, based in the United Kingdom, was established in 2006 to manage this rapidly growing market,” said Ms. Williams. “Primarily, demand for sweet potatoes began in the U.K. and we are now seeing demand in mainland Europe on the rise due to the taste, versatility and nutritional value of North Carolina sweet potatoes. We feel that this growth in exports benefits the industry as a whole as sweet potato production has increased over the past several years.”
Last year, Scott Farms International launched a consumer- and trade-based campaign and website: www.lovesweetpotatoes.com. It is tailored to the European market.
“In May, Scott Farms International was named Importer of the Year by The Fresh Produce Journal in the U.K., so we are optimistic about our export business in the coming year,” said Ms. Williams.
Food safety and traceability are ongoing parts of the company’s daily operations. It is 100-percent Produce Traceability Initiative compliant at the case level to track sweet potatoes from fields to customers’ docks. This program has allowed Scott Farms to successfully complete detailed pilot trace-back programs with its customers and partners.
“We also have a number of food-safety certifications, including Global Good Agricultural Practices and Marks and Spencer Field to Fork certification,” she added.
For customers that want to market specialty foodservice and retail items, Scott Farms grows several varieties besides the Covington, including Beauregard, Hernandez, Carolina Ruby, Bonita, Purple and Murasaki.
In July, Scott Farms welcomed Ron Weaver to its team in the role of operations manager.
“He brings to us extensive knowledge and experience from his time in food production management,” said Ms. Williams. “Ron has strengthened our food-safety and quality assurance programs, and he has increased our overall packing and shipping efficiencies in a short time.”