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Quail H Farms knows automation is key for sweet potato success

Although a relatively young company, Quail H Farms LLC is one of the largest and most reputable sweet potato grower/packer/shippers in the state of California. The company operates with the belief in the words of the great coach Vince Lombardi, “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work.”

“We have been in business since 2008. We have a great management staff with years of experience in their respective roles that bring a unique perspective to our operation,” said Larelle Miller, sales manager for the Livingston, CA-based company. “Our owners, our management and our staff work together as a diverse team to discuss the issues that affect our company and the industry as a whole, and then work together to find solutions.”

1233184 475759165855445 1956979833 o As a true team effort in decision making and execution, Quail H Farms was one of the first California shippers to automate its bagging operation and the team is constantly looking for ways to automate in the field as well as the packing shed.

The 2019 crop yields were off 20-25 percent across the board in California, mostly due to the wet and cold spring conditions. 

“Supplies will be very tight and may even run out before the 2020 crop is harvested in California,” Miller said. “The market has strengthened but there is concern that it might not be good enough. With the yields as low as they were, the overall cost to produce the 2019 crop increased by greater than 25 percent.” 

That’s just one of the challenges the company is facing. There are regulations and high taxes in the state, plus the minimum wage in California is $13 an hour and Quail H Farms is very dependent on labor in California, in both the field and the packing shed. 

“Automation is key, but it is expensive,” Miller said. “We are constantly discussing what we can do to reduce our costs and come up with the capital to invest in this equipment. Our Southern Brethren have figured it out, and we need to.”

Success has come from a combination of flexibility, honesty and accountability.

“When working with growers, employees and customers, these are three important characteristics for a company to be successful,” Miller said. “Obviously growing and selling excellent quality sweet potatoes, at profitable levels, while providing the best customer service helps as well.”

Additionally, honesty and strong communication with growers keeps a healthy relationship with everyone involved in the process.

“We really try to be as honest and open with our growers in regard to market conditions, quality conditions and how that affects their returns,” Miller said. “We give them a full accounting for every pound of product that is delivered and communicate all market conditions and opportunities.”