From Seed to Plant
Southeastern North Carolina's soil and climate combines to create nearly perfect growing conditions to grow sweet potatoes. In addition to several growing locations here in North Carolina, Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co. (WEB) grows over 3,500 acres of sweet potatoes around the country.
WEB grows five varieties of sweet potatoes:
Farming Operations Manager, George Wooten III explained that the growing cycle begins in mid-March. "Our farm managers plant only certified, true-to-type seed into special field beds which are covered by plastic to protect seedlings from the elements. Farm managers apply the proper amounts of lime, fertilizer, and nematicide, if needed. The roots are transplanted when the soil temperature has been 65 degrees F for at least four consecutive days, which usually is in early-to-mid-May.
"The best plants are 8 to 12 inches long and have eight or more leaves. Plants are cut above the ground, and not pulled from the soil to reduce the spread of disease. They are planted into fields that have deep, sandy soil, which will produce good-looking and better-shaped sweet potatoes. The ideal planting time is from May 20 to June 15, but planting can continue until June 30 for early maturing varieties.
"Once the plants are growing in the field, timely herbicide applications combined with cultivation practices protect the sweet potato crop against both weeds and pests. Throughout the growing season, farm crews regularly scout the fields to determine what, if any pests are present and what course of action is necessary. Should chemical insect control be warranted, the company follows Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices."
Harvesting the Crop
Approximately 90 to 120 days after planting, the sweet potato crop is ready to harvested. Experienced crews use a plow to harvest sweet potatoes by exposing the roots of the plant so that they may be picked up by hand. They make sure that the sweet potatoes are separated into two categories: fresh market and canning.