For many growers, the most serious challenge is marketing their crop successfully. Successful marketing requires that farmers deliver high quality sweet potatoes to the locations at the times and in the forms that buyers want them. For an individual operator, important factors that influence price and marketing options include:
- Local and national supply levels.
- The costs of growing the product and transporting it to major consuming areas as compared with those same costs for growers in competing areas.
- The volume of product available from a specific geographic area.
- When the crop is harvested.
- The length of time over which buyers can obtain sweet potatoes from an area.
- The quality of the crop, as determined by production, harvesting, and postharvest handling practices.
- The reputation of the grower. An inexperienced grower who provides sweet potatoes of variable quality over short time periods will find limited marketing opportunities.
Growers must often deal with the complexities of selling beyond the local market. To do so successfully requires specialized knowledge about buyer desires, transportation arrangements and regional consumption patterns where the sweet potatoes will eventually be sold. Medium- to large-volume producers often find it to their advantage to employ a sales agent whose sole responsibility is to locate and contact possible buyers and to arrange for transportation. The sales agent works exclusively for the farmer-shipper and negotiates with the buyer over the time and place of delivery, the quantity to be sold and the price on behalf of the grower.
Another option for the grower is to hire a sweet potato broker, who acts as a go-between. In other words, the broker negotiates the specific details of a sale contract between a seller and buyer. Brokers will work for a seller or buyer (depending on who is paying the brokerage fee) and usually do not take possession of, or even handle, the sweet potatoes.
For smaller-volume producers, marketing options can include direct sales to consumers, selling to local grocery stores, or selling to local shipper-packers. In several areas of the state, growers have organized marketing cooperatives that permit them to market their product jointly. Because of the increased volume, they are able to hire a sales agent to handle the marketing process.
It is estimated that over 70% of all the sweet potatoes grown commercially in North Carolina are sold directly to chain stores, terminal market facilities, or foodservice providers. The remaining 30% are sold to processors for canning, flaking, chipping, frying, freezing or baby food.
It is advised that before you plant sweet potatoes that a marketing plan be developed and confirmed.