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As of Jan. 26, Sydney, FL-based Tater Man had already started its 2013 season. “The demand for our fresh sweets is as early as possible,“ said Jason Bell, account manager. “Our processing partners have been able to expand their production windows and take on new business, which is keeping the demand on our crops extremely strong.”

Mr. Bell explained that stored sweet potatoes do not achieve the same quality as do freshly pickedIMAG0043Jason Bell, account manager for Tater Man. ones, and Tater Man’s customers stress this point.

“Sweet potatoes were never intended to have birthdays,” he said. “On the fresh market side, we have noticed a very positive response from our customers — they say that they always prefer the freshest available product for their customers.”

Although it’s nice to have year-round supplies available — as most sweet potato producers do — Tater Man, Mr. Bell added, has something different to offer: new-crop sweet potatoes, and as early as July. The company’s growing partners had already started growing slips for the plants in January.

“We are able to offer year-round supplies by holding the 2012 crop from October, November and December, which is what we’re shipping off of now,” said Mr. Bell. “But instead of selling eight- to 10-month-old stored sweet potatoes in July, we’ll be offering fresh product. Our concept is to ship the freshest potatoes at all times of the year.”

Tater Man’s sweet potatoes, he added, are never more than about six months old. Mr. Bell’s growing partners are strategically located in the Southeast to allow him to accomplish this goal.

He partners with the Penry family, growers in Daphne, AL, the Coggins family in Florida and Georgia, and the Chancey family, which owns Millstream Farms in Dunn, NC.

“Because of the consistent job these three growing families do of getting the crop in and shipped out in good fashion and the great working relationships we all have, we are able to achieve the concept that we have set for Tater Man,” said Mr. Bell. “I always work to get them the most money for their sweet potatoes.”

He mentioned that Millstream Farms does an outstanding job at storing, and so from December through July the company pulls its sweet potatoes off of it.

Besides continuing to grow the Covington, Hernandez and Evangeline varieties, Tater Man is also increasing production of the specialty sweet potatoes that have performed very well for the company.

Tater Man is increasing its acreage again slightly this year, with most of the increase being planted in Florida.

On the horizon for the company is an additional new label for its premium No. 1 sweet potatoes, which it is keeping under wraps until it’s introduced.

“If everything goes according to plan, we will have the new label on display at the Southeast Produce Council’s 2013 Southern Exposure expo in Orlando, FL, Feb. 28 to March 3,” said Mr. Bell.