Small potatoes bring gourmet prices

By Tom Lollis

Small potatoes

Small potatoes may yield big profits for farmers along South Carolina’s coast. The specialty potatoes have become gourmet fare, commanding prices four to 10 times higher than regular potatoes.

High-end restaurants and specialty markets now have to buy the gourmet potatoes from producers in northern and western states. But local growers from Florence to Beaufort could fill this niche beginning in 2007, thanks to Clemson Extension vegetable specialist Richard Hassell.

For the past three years, he has been developing best growing practices for potatoes under two inches in diameter at Clemson’s Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston. Last spring, he offered tiny potatoes in a variety of colors to chefs at upscale restaurants in Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head.

Colors included yellow with a red stripe inside, red skin with dark yellow flesh, and white skin with red flesh. This year, he plans to grow­ purple, yellow and blue varieties. The tiny potatoes were a hit with the specialty restaurants and would be a natural fit for tomato and melon growers along the coast.

“You need cool temperatures to set the dark skins,” said Hassell. “We’re doing just the opposite of what potato growers in the northern part of the country do. We plant when it’s real cold and harvest when it’s real hot.”

For information: Richard Hassell, 843-402-5394,