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“Sweet” Research at National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group Meeting

Hands digging sweet potatoes from the ground, with other workers standing on the horizon

North Carolina’s sweetpotato production has surpassed every other state in the United States for the past 50 years despite increasing challenges like weather events, herbicide-resistant weeds and labor shortages. In fact, NC — whose state vegatable is the sweetpotato — produced 1.7 billion pounds of sweetpotatoes valued at $375 million in 2020, with Sampson, Nash, Wilson and Johnston counties as the top producers. NC State’s contributions to the state, national and international industries and economies have continued to grow exponentially through several strategic collaborations and plant research initiatives.

NC State’s partnership with the National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group and their annual meeting is an example of a critical collaborative effort and its far-reaching impact. The National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group is the only national platform to focus solely on sweetpotato-based research and extension activities. The group has met annually since 1939 to discuss all aspects of sweetpotato production, and it now includes university, industry and governmental representatives from 21 states and five other countries. Other top national and international sweetpotato producers include California, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as Uganda.

The National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group addresses shared challenges related to sweetpotato production, and it resolves to openly share research-based information to diverse audiences. A few of its focus areas include:

  • Evaluating new sweetpotato varieties created through plant breeding and genomics. 
  • Investigating best practices for disease, insect, and weed pest management issues and opportunities. 
  • Assessing and improving best production practices for state, national and international needs, including marketing and processing.

How has NC State research benefited from participating in the National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group?

Jonathan Schultheis, professor and NC State Extension Sweetpotato/Curcurbits/Sweet Corn Specialist: The National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group provides an excellent opportunity to share new, innovative research with colleagues and industry across the country and internationally. The meeting format gives ample opportunity to exchange ideas with participants to develop and/or improve their current or future research. In addition, the sweetpotato collaborators meeting provides graduate students the opportunity to develop their presentation skills so they are better equipped for future employment.

What level of sweetpotato research does NC State contribute?

At the annual meetings, graduate students showcase research led by innovative faculty through a contest series of oral and poster presentations. At the recent meeting hosted in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 11-12, 2022, students from NC State University, University of Tennessee, Louisiana State University, University of Arkansas, and Mississippi State University participated in masters and PhD presentation contests. NC State participants swept the competition, winning all awards at the meeting. The awards are listed below in the order in which the graduate students placed.

Master of Science Contest

  1. Alyssa Woodard: ‘Evaluation of Alternative Sweetpotato Slip Planting Orientations.’Co-advised by Jonathan Schultheis in the Department of Horticultural Science and David Suchoff in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.
  2. Colton Blankenship:’Impact of Fall-planted Cover Crops and Tillage on Weed Control in Four Sweetpotato Cultivars.’ dvised by Katie Jennings in the Department of Horticultural Science.
  3. Lily Kile: ‘The use of Winter Cover Crops for Nitrogen Management in Organic Sweetpotato Production.’ Advised by Alex Woodley in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.  

PhD Contest

  1. Levi Moore: ‘Evaluating Electrical and Mechanical Methods for Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) Control in Sweetpotato.’ Advised by Katie Jennings in the Department of Horticultural Science.  
  2. Keith Starke: ‘Effect of Flumioxazin and S-metolachlor on ‘Covington’ Sweetpotato Planted Vertically or Horizontally.’ Advised by Jonathan Schultheis and Katie Jennings in the Department of Horticultural Science.  
  3. Enrique Pena Martinez: ‘Statistical Penotyping of Sweetpotatoes by Imaging Bins: Preliminary Results from a High-throughput Truck Scanner.’ Advised by Michael Kudenov in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

Do you see yourself as a sweetpotato researcher or grower?

Sweetpotatoes and horticultural science include many diverse fields for success. Are you interested in crop production, plant diseases, pest and disease management or plant breeding? Explore the Horticultural Science graduate programs.