Wayne Garber, a partner in Garber Farms in Iota, LA, told The Produce News that the consumer is going to like this year’s crop.
“We’re 60-percent harvested as of today,” he said Sept. 27. “We had a dry and hot growing season, so we had to irrigate almost continually since planting. Fortunately, moisture in September from Hurricane Lee gave us some relief. It was an expensive crop due to all the irrigation, but it worked. The crop quality is excellent this year, and volumes are average to above average.”
Mr. Garber said that harvesting would be wrapped up by the end of October. He explained that when weather conditions are dry and hot, the sweet potatoes tend to be denser, which causes the sugar to be a little higher. The result is a higher Brix level, which provides great flavor and a better shelf life.
“Overall, it’s a stable crop with a good storage profile and good shelf life,” he said. “From what we’re seeing, the quality is better than average on the pack outs. I don’t think it will be above average in volume, and statewide it may be slightly below because some people do not have irrigation. If Garber Farms has an average to just-above-average crop, we’ll be really pleased.”
Garber Farms’ customers are major-chain retailers, wholesalers, foodservice operators and processors, like Con Agra and McCain Foods. Mr. Garber said that the processing demand is strong and growing.
“Processors are putting new product lines together all the time,” said Mr. Garber. “This is a very positive aspect for sweet potatoes today. At the same time, demand on the fresh side is also increasing. One side supports the other. When steak houses started offering sweet potatoes several years ago, people wanted to make them at home. That increase in demand motivates processors to want to add new options in their lines. It’s a full-circle effect that benefits everyone.”
He added that the increased awareness of the nutritional and health benefits of sweet potatoes — driven by food networks and magazines — is inspiring consumers to increase their consumption of sweet potatoes and to include them in their diets throughout the entire year.
He said that bagged fresh, frozen and microwavable sweet potatoes are strong trends today.
“We added a new bagging machine that enables us to now produce three-, five- and 10-pound red mesh bags with quick-lock closures,” said Mr. Garber. “We pack U.S. number-1 petite-grade six-ounce potatoes in the three-pound bag. The five- and 10-pound bags can accommodate different sizes, which we will pack according to retailers’ requests. We continually strive to fill our customers’ year-round demands.”
The company announced that Jed McSpadden joined the company as its new sales and marketing representative in April. Mr. Garber said that he is highly educated and he has a broad background in food and marketing for companies like Kellogg’s and Ore-Ida.
“Jed came to us from a company that is involved in producing enrichment products for these companies,” said Mr. Garber “He has a lot of experience in food safety, and so he is helping us with our initiatives. We feel he’ll be a great asset to Garber Farms.”
He said that the bottom line is that Garber Farms is back in a position of strength in the market this year, something he hasn’t been able to say for the past three years due to hurricanes and other weather problems that affected the Louisiana sweet potato crops.
“We’re very optimistic, and we’re ready to work with our buyers to build their programs,” said Mr. Garber. “This season’s crop is Louisiana sweet potatoes at their best.”