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Taters in the Tar Heel State: An Analysis of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Market

September 15, 2016

Since the early 1970’s, North Carolina has been the leading grower of sweet potaNc State Flag  Sweet Potatotoes, producing over 50% of the nation’s crop. Our warm wet climate, as well as sandy soil, make North Carolina the perfect place to grow sweet potatoes. In fact, 96,000 acres of sweet potatoes were planted this year in the Tar Heel State. This is a 10% increase from 2015 and is 3 times more acreage than the next biggest producer, Mississippi. As production increases, so does the demand for sweet potatoes. Domestic consumption for sweet potatoes has almost doubled in the last decade. The USDA has reported that from 2000-2015 the average consumption of sweet potatoes has grown from 4.2 lbs to 7.5 lbs per capita. Experts believe that this growth in domestic consumption will continue to increase into 2016 and beyond. Demand has slightly outpaced producing, which has kept the price just under $25 per cwt. Even with the increase in acreage this year this trend will continue to hold true in 2016. There are three main factors that are driving the growth of sweet potatoes; the increased demand for locally grown produce, healthier meal options, and fresh/convenient options.     


The National Restaurant Association put together a survey to try and understand what consumers are looking for in 2016. 77% of survey participants pointed to locally grown produce as a hot trend in 2016. This is the highest percentage in the entire produce category, in front of organic produce. In today’s information-driven world, consumers have the ability to research any product. Now more than ever, consumers want to know where their products are coming from. This is especially true for regions generally known for specific commodities (North Carolina Sweet Potatoes). Consumers point to these advantages of locally grown produce;

  • Flavor- Locally grown crops are harvested at their peak of ripeness and often arrive to a restaurant 24 hours after picked.
  • Nutrition- When produce sits for long periods of time it tends to lose some of its nutrient value. Since local produce is closer to the consumer, the risk of nutrient loss is decreased.
  • Education - Often times, local farms can tell you exactly where their crops are grown. This helps produce a safer food supply for the public.
  • Economic- Buying local produce not only helps local farmers, it leads to an increase in the local economy.

Many people do not realize that Cuba, despite its economic hardships, has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. This is because they harp on prevention rather than treatment. One of their “prevention” methods is eating a healthy diet, free of processed foods. This “food is medicine” movement is beginning to shape what families around the world are putting on their plate. In fact, the global sale of health food products (including produce) is projected to grow to $1 trillion in 2017. Take into account the fact that a forbes.com poll found that 88% of people are willing to pay more for healthier fresh foods and you can see how the sweet potato is in for a historic year. The humble sweet potato excels as a healthy food option. The health benefits of sweet potatoes are unmatched and are rich in Flavanoids, Carotenoids, Vitamin E, and Lycopene.

  • Flavenoids- Have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, reducing the risk of heart disease especially atherosclerosis.
  • Carotenoids- Offer protection against certain cancers, macular degeneration, cataracts, and other free radical damaging conditions.
  • Vitamin E- Plays a strong role in developing a strong immunity as well as healthy skin and eyes.
  • Lycopene- Prevents heart disease and cancer, especially cancer of the prostate, breast, lung, bladder, ovaries, colon and pancreas.

This makes the sweet potato a perfect replacement to other popular sides like white potatoes. Combine this with the fact that sweet potatoes have 1,000 x more Vitamin A and more Vitamin C than regular white potatoes and you can see why more and more families are filling their plates with this healthy vegetable.
Two large trends of convenience and healthy food options have recently created a new consumer category of healthy convenient foods.

This category is driven by the emerging spending power of the millennial generation. Most millennials grew up in a world of on demand service/technology and tend to eat more impulsively than other generations. They also tend to eat out more, but still want healthier food options. This is where the versatility of the sweet potato excels. New packaging options such as individually wrapped microwaveable sweet potatoes, microwaveable trays, and steamable bags have given the sweet potato the ability to be both healthy and convenient at the same time. China has already jumped on this trend, putting roasted pre packaged sweet potatoes in many of their countries gas stations.
In the past decade, the health benefits and versatility of the sweet potato have increased the demand for the vegetable as well as allowed it to follow global food trends. So what’s next for the sweet potato? Experts believe the demand for sweet potatoes will continue to grow beyond 2016. Consumers will continue to demand healthier and more convenient options of their favorite foods, fueling innovation in the processing as well as packaging side of the business.

You got to be kibbling me: Sweet Potatoes for Fido?

August 04, 2016

The pet food industry has definitely evolved over the past 75 years. In what I like to call the barking thirties, wealthy American’s began to feed their pets dehydrated and canned pet food rather than just table scraps. Fast-forward to today, and the pet food industry has grown to a $60 billion market. Over the past 15 years, the human food and pet food industries have ‘fed’ off each other. The clean eating trend has trickled from humans to our four legged companions. Now we are seeing many pet food brands turn to local farmers to supply them with fresh meats and vegetables that they either chop up or dehydrate into cubes or pellets. This begs the question, what vegetables should my pet eat? The answer is simple: sweet potatoes. Here are three reasons why your dog should be eating sweet potatoes.Harley

1.Healthy Carbohydrates- Dogs evolved from wolves, which are mainly carnivores and specifically designed to digest meat and bones. Only a portion of the wild wolves’ diet consists of plants, so it is important to choose a quality carb for your dog. Carbohydrates are often used as a binding agent in pet foods. The sweet potato is perfect for this role as it is the healthiest carb, binds other ingredients together, and gives your dog some important vitamins and nutrients in the process.

2.Amino Acids & Vitamins- Sweet potatoes are packed with healthy amino acids and essential vitamins and minerals. The number one cause of death in dogs is cancer. Nationally, nearly one in four dogs will get cancer in their lifetime. Cancer treatments start with prevention in dogs. Luckily sweet potatoes have amino acids that boast antioxidants, which are essential in preventing and treating cancer. These same amino acids, with the combination of the high concentration of Vitamins A & C in sweet potatoes, also promote healthy muscle development. As your dog ages, it is essential they receive enough of these vitamins to reduce the risk of early onset arthritis and hip dysplasia.

3. High Fiber Content- Bloat is a huge problem in dogs and can cause premature death. That is why it is important to feed your dog a high fiber diet. Fiber helps maintain a healthy digestive system and promotes the growth of healthy bacteria to aid in the breakdown of food. Dog food that uses unhealthy fillers that contain gluten often will cause inflammation of the stomach and may lead to a case of bloat. Luckily, sweet potatoes are high in fiber and free of gluten.

Many pet food companies have caught on with this trend and have included dehydrated or fresh sweet potatoes in their food. If you purchase any of these brands you are not only improving the health of your dog, but you are also promoting local farmers. Consider that one-third of produce, amounting to $3 trillion a year, is wasted because of visual defects. The pet food industry gives local farmers, like us, an outlet for produce that would end up being dumped back in the field. This is the exact reason why we opened Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration. Now our off-sized and visually diverse sweet potatoes have a purpose in creating human grade pet food. It’s time to get out of the doghouse and feed your dog sweet potatoes.

The 'Soil Valley': The Ag Industry is Primed for the Next Tech Bubble

July 20, 2016

The farming and produce industry is on the verge of the next technology bubble. This is fueled by the growing demand for fresh local produce and the aging demographic of farm owners. Today the average age of a farmer is around 60, which has grown over 10 years in the past 2 decades. When you take into account that the average retirement age is 63 years old, you can see that the industry is primed for a major demographic shift. As farming operations are handed over to the next generation, the demand and need for new farming techniques and technology increases. Here are 2 of the most influential emerging farming technologies. Futur Farm W109 2048x1078 Simplified Layers Adobe Rgb

1.BigData- With the advent of cloud computing and storage, more data has been created in the past 2 years than the history of mankind. As a result of all this data creation, a need for data storage and analysis tools has materialized. The agriculture industry has been a little late to the data party, but we are beginning to see the adoption of some new technologies. Here are just a few examples.

  • Drones – The agriculture industry was one of the first industries to test and adopt the use of drones, but it wasn’t until recently that farmers have actually used them as a data collection tool. Farmers now utilize drones to map out fields and collect vital soil data. This data is automatically uploaded into built-in software platforms and a soil prescription is created. This allows farmers to create a seed, fertilizer, and chemical program that decreases costs and ultimately increases their yield.
  • Infrastructure health sensors run on the cloud- Large farming conglomerates often have multiple produce houses, coolers, and storage areas. These health sensors could be placed in all buildings and provide farmers with feedback on conditions at each facility. For example, a humidity and temperature sensor could be placed in each cooler giving the farmer instantaneous data on temperature, humidity, and supply levels. Such a technology will ultimately decrease waste and increase turnover of produce.
  • Farming Management Systems- With the data follows the need for an integrated platform that collects, analyzes, and reports important information. These systems have been around for a decade, but many are beginning to use advance data analytics in order to increase yield and decrease cost. We will continue to see advancements in this software, with an increased emphasis on user flexibility.

2.Automation- In 1900 over 40% of the population worked in the agriculture industry; in 2000 that number was only 2%. This, combined with today’s farm labor shortage, has fueled the demand for farming automation. Many farmers are turning to robots to take over some of the harder labor on today’s farms. The robots, affectionately referred to as agbots, have taken over tasks such as harvesting, plowing, picking, weeding, and seeding. In the more distant future there will be swarms of theses robots utilizing sensors in order to implement precision farming techniques. While swarms of agbots may be a distant thought, automation is definitely not. In fact, the agriculture robotic industry is expected to grow from $3 billion to $17 billion by the end of 2020.

While the farming industry has never been considered ‘sexy’ in the eyes of technology enthusiasts, the industry is primed for the next technology revolution. This revolution is fueled by the demographic shift in the industry, the increase demand for fresh local produce, as well as, the current farm labor shortage. It will be exciting to see what farming region will be the next ‘Silicon Valley’ or what I like to call the next ‘Soil Valley’.