Sweet potato farms on the decline in Texas

By Samantha Jordan – bio| email
Posted by Elizabeth Thomas – email

GRAND SALINE, TX (KLTV) - Everything is bigger in Texas, but we might not be big enough for sweet potatoes.

The Lone Star State used to be one of the top growers of the vegetable, but, due to the lack of land and wild hogs, farmers are giving up.

Tony Phillips is a local sweet potato farmer. He's been in the business since 1979, and believes the industry has been taking a hit, but not for the reasons many people may think.

"For years now, the older gentlemen who taught me the business have been retiring, quitting, dying, and there's been no one to replace them," explained Phillips.

He says when he first got into the family business, the number of farmers in the area topped out in the triple digits. "When I started there was probably about 75 to 100."

But now, the number of sweet potato farmers in the area is close to 10 or 15.

Phillips explains, "It's a shame because we have some of the best sweet potato soil climate in the United States. It's just not recognized."

Good property for farming has also become a big concern for the industry.

"Real estate has become such an issue that there's not big areas that a person can farm. You have to really hunt and search to find places that are big enough and good enough to grow your potatoes," says Phillips.

Even if you did find a good farming area, there are a couple of other things to look out for.

"When I first started, there weren't any wild hogs around. And sweet potatoes are like candy to a wild hog," Phillips stated.

Phillips says hogs can cause anywhere from $3000-4000 worth of damage in one night. So he put up an electrical fence to keep them away from his crops.

And, while Phillips has been in the business for over 30 years, he knows he won't be able to do it forever.

"I wish that there were younger people coming behind us to take the industry on down the road."

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, in 1970, Texas ranked third nationally in sweet potato growers with more than 13,000 acres. Now, it ranks number eight, with just 1300 acres.

Copyright 2011 KLTV. All rights reserved.