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Jason Bell, account manager for Tater Man in Sydney, FL, told The Produce News that the company started digging sweet potatoes in Florida on July 9, and finished there in mid-September, well ahead of its normal harvest period.

“Just as Florida was wrapping up, we started digging in Georgia, which was also early,” said Mr. Bell. “That harvest will end around the first of October. We have less acreage in Georgia, so it goes considerably faster.”

This year’s Tater Man coJason Bell, account manager for Tater Man, proudly displays a box of the company’s sweet potatoes.Southeastern crops came through a lot of weather issues, which started with a tropical depression in June and then heavy rains off of Hurricane Isaac in late August.

“But in Florida, we grow in soil that is from 93 to 97 percent sand, and water drains through it quickly, which is an advantage for us,” said Mr. Bell. “When this happens, we have to sort of spoon feed fertilizer to the crop because it causes slower maturation, particularly on the Covington variety. But doing so also helps to ensure that we’ll have good quality and a good amount of No. 1 sizes.”

He explained that when everything clicks at the right time, the sweet potatoes start sizing up very fast. But the on-and-off-again rainfall means that digging starts, stops and then starts again.

“Overall, the crop is doing really well,” he said. “Our volumes are so nice that in one week in September, I had to buy 10 extra bins, and the very next week I had to buy five more.”

Tater Man is also shipping well ahead of where it was at the same time a year ago.

The company grows sweet potatoes on 500 acres in Florida and another 300 acres in other Southeastern states. The majority of its crop is shipped along the entire Eastern Seaboard. Its customers are retailers and processors.

Tater Man is now offering a three-pound consumer pack of is branded sweet potatoes. Mr. Bell said that he feels there’s a message in the growing demand for bagged sweet potatoes, and it is that consumers are considering them a staple item today, just like they do with white potatoes.

Tater Man has been shipping sweet potatoes since 1999, but the company started growing them in Florida only a few years ago. Mr. Bell said he feels that his feet are on solid Florida ground now.

His staff is growing in reflection of the company’s growth.

“Judy Albano joined us in September,” said Mr. Bell. “She was previously with Crown Harvest Produce Sales, a Plant City, [FL,] strawberry company. Judy is focusing on logistics, administration and retail customer service. She’ll be keeping Tater Man straight.”