The sweet potato industry has become stricter with food safety standards and traceback, said Jimmy Burch Sr., partner in Burch Farms Inc., Faison, N.C.

Food safety is a major issue for all the commodities, said Laurie Wood, marketing specialist for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Raleigh.

Companies want to ensure they are ready to keep the food supply safe, Wood said.

“Local has become more important. Consumers seem to understand and ask for local produce now, which is good. It’s available, and the sweet potatoes are year-round, so that’s an advantage,” Wood said.

Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, goes through food safety inspections because it is in the foodservice business and ships overseas, said Stewart Precythe, chief executive officer.

Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., is working on its compliance with the Produce Traceability Initiative, said George Wooten, president and owner.

The company is using software to help efficiently tag its products, Wooten said.

Input costs are going to be a little more than 2008’s costs, said Danny Kornegay, owner of Kornegay Farms, Princeton, N.C.

While fertilizer prices and labor costs are up, fuel is down from last year, Kornegay said.

Most input costs are down from last year, but none are down as much as fuel, Precythe said.

Labor is more expensive this year, Precythe said.

All input costs, aside from labor, were down for Burch, though.

“Labor has gone up,” Burch said.

Exporting is still strong in the North Carolina potato industry.

The export business has been a good thing for U.S. grower-shippers, Precythe said.

“I think the trade in Europe and the United Kingdom are accepting the sweet potatoes very well and that the department of agriculture and what the sweet potato commission is doing overseas is definitely helping our sales in those markets,” Wooten said.

“We export. It’s growing part of our business,” Burch said. “We’re not going to Europe. We’re mostly going to Canada and Puerto Rico,” he said.

“We ship a lot of potatoes to Europe,” Precythe said.

“People all over Europe are eating potatoes now, so now we can increase the acreage in the U.S. even though consumption is growing here in North Carolina and in the U.S. and will continue to grow.”