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Geographic diversity helps Wada Farms meet customers’ sweet potato needs

Hurricane Florence was beginning to batter the coastline of the Carolinas when The Produce News spoke with Eric Beck, marketing director for Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC in Idaho Falls, ID Sept. 14. It was further downgraded to a tropical storm later in the day, but still dumped record rainfall on many parts of North Carolina over the next two days, including on some of the top sweet potato-producing counties.

04-Wada-Farms---sweet-potato-packaging North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the United States and also, according to Beck, the heart of Wada Farms’ sweet potato program.

Until the storm damage is assessed, Beck said, “We will really not have a fair idea of what impact it is going to have on the crop. Therefore, next year looks up in the air.” However, he did not expect a total wipe out. “There will still be sweet potatoes around,” he said, particularly from fields that are on higher ground.

Fortunately for Wada Farms and for the company’s customers, although North Carolina may be the heart of Wada’s sweet potato program, it is a program with considerable geographic diversity.

“We have a very diverse grower network throughout the Southwest and also on the West Coast,” Beck said. “Developing partnerships and relationships with growers on both coasts “allows us to provide our buyers with a diversity of shipping points that best meet their needs.”

It also helps assure Wada Farms of supplies of sweet potatoes when disaster strikes in particular growing areas.

As of mid-September, Wada Farms still had sweet potatoes in storage from the 2017 harvest, and the 2018 harvest was under way in California. “We started there the middle of August,” Beck said. “We are in the new crop now, and the crop looks great. It is sizing up very well. Good color, good shape. It can definitely meet the consumers’ demands for what they are looking for in all varieties. We’ve got oranges, whites, purples and red Dianes.” They also have organic as well as conventional product. The harvest will continue through the first part of November, and the crop is shipped out of storage year-round.

Wada Farms also has sweet potatoes out of the Northwest, specifically Oregon-Idaho. “That is more of a seasonal program, and we will have availability coming out of the Northwest starting mid-October,” he said. The harvest will continue into early November, and the shipping season will