VARDAMAN – Two powerhouse sweet potato growers have combined, with Alexander Farms finalizing the purchase of several Penick Produce businesses last week.

Investment banking company Legacy Capital said the transaction was signed May 22, with Penick Produce Co., Penick Business, Penick L.P., and significant land assets sold to local sweet potato operator Alexander Farms for an undisclosed figure.

“My father-in-law, J.R. Penick, was a pioneer in the sweet potato industry in north Mississippi and on the national level,” said Rob Langston, president of Penick Produce. “In addition to forming Penick Produce to serve the needs of the farmers, he also accumulated ownership of a substantial amount of sweet potato farming acreage.”

Penick was a driving force in marketing and making Vardaman the ‘Sweet Potato Capital of the World,’ until his death in November 2017 at age 92. Penick started the Sweet Potato Council for Mississippi in 1964. The following year, he joined with other sweet potato pioneers to create the Sweet Potato Council of the United States. He served two terms as President.

“We are pleased to be passing the business on to the trusted and experienced operations of Alexander Farms,” Langston said. “Kenneth and his son, Ryan, will continue to serve the area for many years to come.”

The Alexanders also noted Penick’s leadership and understanding of the larger sweet potato agribusiness.

“I had a long friendship with J.R. Penick, and I shared his vision for the sweet potato industry in Mississippi,” Kenneth Alexander said. “It is a pleasure to have the ability to continue his legacy.”

Ryan Alexander echoed his father’s comments.

“I hope to represent the new generation of sweet potato farming operations in the Vardaman area,” he said. “We are excited to be in a position to make a substantial contribution to the industry.”

Penick Produce has been in operation since 1956. The company served the sweet potato industry in north Mississippi by buying “process grade” potatoes from area farmers that are not suitable for “fresh market” or retail consumption.

That means potatoes are bought primarily during the harvest season and stored for sale throughout the year. Without the operations of Penick Produce, many farmers would have to discard a substantial portion of their harvest.

New Orleans-based Legacy Capital was the transaction adviser to the Penick companies.

— Floyd Ingram