When you think of carrots, the word "sweet" may not immediately come to mind. Unless you're crunching on a Georgia carrot.
"Carrots are a fairly new crop to Georgia," said Terry Kelley, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.
"We've been growing carrots in Georgia for probably five or six years," he said. "But it's an industry that continues to grow. It has attracted a lot of attention because of the unique taste of the carrots grown in Georgia."
One group of farmers in Coffee, Wayne, Jeff Davis and Bacon counties has gotten together to provide more of those sweet carrots for shoppers in Georgia and across the nation. They're finding a new way to market their carrots by making sure they're sweeter than others in the grocery store.
"No one in the nation that we're aware of is using a refractometer on carrots," said Steve Mullis, a carrot processor for the south Georgia cooperative. Refractometers measure sugar content and show that Georgia carrots contain more sugar than those grown elsewhere in the nation.
Particularly fine-textured soils and moderate temperatures in south Georgia have proven ideal to grow carrots consumers like.
Kelley said it's warm days and cool nights that allow sugars to accumulate in the carrot root. The south Georgia climate is just right for a high sugar accumulation.
Sandy and loam soils allow carrots to grow without odd bumps or curves, too.
"Consumers generally want a good, straight, long carrot, and that's what we can give them," he said.
James Tate, a Jeff Davis County farmer, has about 40 acres of carrots.
"I'm in a co-op with nine different farmers," Tate said. "We're responsible for our own carrots, but we're selling them together through a co-op we've established in Alma at a packing shed down there."
This first carrot co-op markets its crop to national grocery store chains and even Canadian stores.
Mullis said co-op members are hoping to gain market superiority with their product. "We're hoping to do the same thing the Vidalia onion has done," he said.
Mullis thinks they can do it with their carrots. He said taste tests have had samplers and buyers coming back with orders.
The carrot co-op is packing out roughly 40 tons every day. Kelley said the co-op is stabilizing the flow of carrots out of Georgia.
"I think we're approaching close to a million-dollar value on the crop," he said. "And that's going to continue to grow in the next few years."