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Export business still growing in 2017 for Triple J Produce

SIMS, NC—Triple J Produce plans to export 70 percent of its 2017 sweet potato crop, expected to total 10 million pounds, to Ireland, Holland, Germany and the United Kingdom, according to Kristi Hocutt, head of sales for burgeoning Triple J Produce. “Europeans are sold on the healthy properties of sweet potatoes,” she said. “They view it as a super food.”

In Europe, the sweet potato has gone, in her experience over the past several years, “from an exotic to a mainstream food.” In 2014, Triple J exported 388,000 pounds of sweet potatoes. For 2015, it went to six million pounds as Hocutt and her husband, Joey Hocutt, president and produce grower at Triple J, traveled to Berlin to boost export sales. For 2017, the goal is to export at least seven million pounds. Triple J ships organic and conventional sweet potatoes year-round from its 100,000-square-foot packingshed, which has 12 heated and cooled storage rooms.

Triple J is a third-generation, family-owned business operated by Mike Hocutt, founder and father of Jay and Joey Hocutt. Its largest crop is sweet potatoes, with 1,400 acres of conventional (up from 1,300 in 2015) and 250 acres of organic (up from 150 in 2015). By 2018, Triple J is expected to have 1,000 certified organic acres. Triple J farms about 4,800 acres, including tobacco, wheat and soybeans, along with other produce such as asparagus, squash and a variety of peppers.

For the harvest this year, Hocutt see labor problems until a legal guest worker program is enacted. In 2017, Triple J will use about 90 migrant workers under the H2A program. Hocutt said she is eager for a revamp of the H2A program, which is “expensive” for farms. Hocutt expects an improvement in the packinghouse production line—the addition of a new Hagen sizing machine—to improve speed of the line, and make more precise quality and size decisions about sweet potatoes. It is expected to be in operation this summer.

Triple J soon may add a family member to its production team — Tristian Perry, Kristi’s daughter, is majoring in Crop Science with a minor in agronomy at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She hopes to work on the family farm one day, added her mother.