Bissett Produce in Spring Hope has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Telegram photo / Emma Tannenbaum

Bissett Produce in Spring Hope has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Spring Hope produce company files for bankruptcy

By John Henderson

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A long-time produce company that is owned by a Spring Hope Town Council member has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Bissett Produce, which dates back to 1933, specializes in growing, processing and selling sweet potatoes on a wholesale basis. A large portion of the Spring Hope company’s crop is sold domestically, with its biggest export market being the United Kingdom.

The company has $5.5 million in liabilities and $4.4 million in assets, according to a bankruptcy filing at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilson.

The company reported revenues of $5.9 million in 2012, down from $7.3 million in 2011, the documents show.

Among the claims of unsecured debt were: $578,000 to Brantley Farms, $268,000 to Rock Ridge Farms, $178,000 to Toll Global Forwarding and $106,000 to Jones Farms.

According to bankruptcy documents, Bissett has secured debt of $2.1 million, with most of it owed to AgCarolina Farm Credit.

A woman who answered the telephone at Bissett Produce said she could not answer any questions about the bankruptcy case, including whether the business is still operating. She referred questions about the case to Raleigh attorney Jason Hendren, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.

Hendren said in a recent Triangle Business Journal story that Bissett is using Chapter 11 bankruptcy to maintain a degree of control as he winds down his business operations. In contrast to Chapter 11 cases, Chapter 7 cases involve a court-appointed trustee who takes control of a bankruptcy estate.

Hendren was also quoted in the story as saying he expects Bissett to repay all of the $2.1 million in secured debt that it owes.

Bissett Produce Co. was created in 1933 so that F.D. Bissett could sell his crops and those of other farmers in the area.

The family-owned business, which reportedly employs 40 yearround and 40 to 60 seasonal workers, is one of North Carolina’s top suppliers of sweet potatoes.

In 1964, Bissett opened a general merchandise store in Spring Hope, F.D. Bissett & Son, which closed in December 2011. The produce company and store were inherited by Ted Bissett, the son of F.D. Bissett. After his death, the businesses were run by his sons, Dan and Lee. Lee Bissett is a Spring Hope Town Council member. He could not be reached for comment.

Bissett Produce is a major sweet potato producer in a county that is ranked No. 1 in the state in sweet potato production, and North Carolina is the No. 1 sweet potato producing state in the United States.

Charlie Tyson, director of the Nash County Cooperative Extension Service, said he feels bad that the company has been struggling.

“We’re disappointed that they haven’t been successful in recent years,” he said.

Mike Wilder, a Nash County agriculture extension agent, said he hopes the company can continue doing business.

“When the packing lines are active and running, just visually you can see a good 35 or 40 folks working,” he said.