It’s a good time to be in the sweet potato business, according to Jimmy Burch Sr., partner in Burch Farms, Faison, N.C.

“Every year is a little bigger, a little better. We just keep adding on,” Burch said.

The company built 20,000 additional square feet of storage last year. This year the company plans to test a new automated potato digger.

“We’re going to plant more. We’ll probably have to go up in acres, and probably add more storage to keep up. It’s a never-ending cycle,” Burch said.

Other companies have enjoyed similar growth.

Adding storage capacity

Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., introduced a four-pack sweet potato product near the end of 2011. The potatoes are packaged on a tray and wrapped in plastic.

“This is a new product that we’re gaining more interest in,” said George Wooten, owner.

The company also added 145,000 square feet of storage with a new curing facility.

The building is scheduled for completion this spring.

Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributions Inc., Faison, said his company also is looking into building a storage facility for the 2012 crop.

Packing line upgrades

Nash Produce, Nashville, N.C., added updates to the packing line.

The company added RedLine Solutions marketing software, which labels each box with a lot number that traces product back to the field, said Laura Kornegay, marketing director.

The label also contains a Global Trade Item Number to indicate the product as Nash sweet potatoes.

The labels are automatically applied to loose potatoes on the line and manually applied to boxes and bags.

“We’ve also added a new bagging machine that’s able to package anything from 2- to 10-pound bags of sweet potatoes,” Kornegay said.

The bagging machine allows for higher production volume. It also adds a label to each bag that includes the lot identification, GTIN and packing date.

New variety

Kim Matthews, co-owner and partner at Matthews Ridgeview Farms, Wynne, Ark., said the company plans to expand production this year by adding a new variety.

“We’re going to venture out and try a white variety this year, the bonita,” she said.

Matthews also reported that the company plans to double production of the microwaveable sweet potato product it introduced several years ago.

“Anything value-added is a growing part of our business,” she said.

Eco-friendly box

Steven Ceccarelli, president of Farm Fresh Produce, Faison, is promoting a new eco-friendly box for his European exports.

In the past, Ceccarelli used a smaller, more European-style box of only 6 kilograms, instead of the more American-style size of 40-pound boxes, according to Ceccarelli.

“My new box has been very successful because using a larger, 40-pound box allows us to use 1,500 less boxes per container, so we use less cardboard. And we can ship 2 extra tons of potatoes for the same amount of freight,” Ceccarelli said.

Ceccarelli also opened an office in Canada that will be ready for this season.

“I ship to Canada a lot, so it will help to have an office there. It isn’t increasing as fast as England, but there is still a lot of potential there,” Ceccarelli said.