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Quality, options and family legacy at Vick Family Farms

By
JD LaTorre

Vick Family Farms expects some of the best quality sweet potatoes this year. “We see our quality is beautiful and the potatoes sized up very nicely despite the hot dry weather,” stated Charlotte Vick, partner and produce manager at Vick Family Farms in Wilson, NC. “Rain in late July was just in time to help push the crop along. What we have seen thus far it is probably some of the best quality we have seen in years with more consistent shape and size.”

In addition to high quality, the Vick operation provides a host of options for customers. “We can supply pretty much anything our customer may be looking for from tray packs, steamer bags, micro and loose to organics, specialty varieties and private label upon request,” said Vick. “We provide electronic sizing to ensure our customer receives the specs they request. We have added a 25-pound #1, additional microwave case counts and tray packs to our line. We continue to explore with our partners new and innovative ideas for the future.”

Vick explained sales in specialty varieties such as the Japanese (Murasaki) and purple/purple increased in 2021/2022. “The demand for these colorful varieties has continued to rise,” she said. “Often, these varieties are not available year round unless buyers specifically ask or preorder for the year. We will have availability of each of these in new crop beginning in October.”

The farm is also a certified organic grower, packer, shipper and offers all of its packs in organic. “Organics are more costly and during the pandemic we continued to grow that line,” said Vick. “However with inflation I do believe organic sales have slowed somewhat just purely due to the consumer being more cost-conscience when purchasing their groceries. But, the younger generation likes organics and we envision this line will only continue to grow in the coming years.”

According to Vick, sweet potato harvest typically begins mid to late August for North Carolina. “This year was right on target despite the drought we experienced this summer,” she said. “Official acreage reports have not been released yet but given conversations with much of the industry growers, we think acres should be down quite a bit (20 to 25 percent). It is still too early to report yields since harvest has just begun and many growers that planted late have not started harvesting yet.”

Additional constraints facing growers this season include the sharp rise in costs associated with growing sweet potatoes. “Labor, fuel and fertilizers are only part of the reason,” stated Vick. “All packing costs are up, some as much as 50 percent. Labor continues to be a major issue and sweet potatoes are a very labor-intensive crop from planting and weeding to harvesting by hand and packing.”

Vick also explained there is a lasting effect because sweet potato prices were down last year, mainly due to an abundance of the crop. “Supply/demand took over and the price per pound was low,” she said. “Some growers chose to no longer produce the crop in 2022 as their investments were low so they could afford to exit. Therefore we have a smaller crop this season.”

The farm’s commitment to customer service and helping to grow its partners’ sweet potato sales is top priority according to Vick. “We are a family here and we all have a vested interest in making our industry better each day,” she said.

“We hope in 2022/2023 we will be able to move forward with capital improvements that will only add more value to our products and allow us to continue to be a leader with innovative technologies to improve our costs increase over the last few years.”

With 48 years in business, Vick Family Farms has a legacy of hard work and determination. “Today, we own and operate 8000 plus acres of row crops in eastern North Carolina and are diversified with other row crops,” said Vick. Sustainability is one of our main focus points as we move forward and have the next generation returning to the farm.”

And the next generation is coming into the business. Charlotte Vick’s son, Eli Ferrell (grandson of Jerome and Diane Vick), has joined the team in the packing shed. “Eli is assisting in day-to-day operations and training in all aspects of the produce business,” said Vick. “You often will see him loading trucks late on weekends or checking in field trucks during harvest. Eli is young and eager to learn and has been a great asset thus far to our company. We are excited to have him join our business.”

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