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Industry advances sweet potato research and extension

NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ research and extension work on sweet potatoes got a big boost April 15, as leaders in the sweet potato industry and associated endeavors gathered in Wilson to celebrate reaching their $1.3 million goal for the Henry M. Covington Endowment.

But as the SweetPotato Commission’s Campaign for Excellence reached its endowment goal, campaign chairman and grower Kendall Hill challenged the group to aim for $2 million as he made his second gift of $25,000.

Hill, who served as master of ceremonies for the celebration, noted that 36 founding endowments of $25,000 or more had been contributed to the overall Convington research and extension endowment, including commitments signed April 15 by representatives of BB Hobbs/Netafim, East Coast Equipment LLC, First Citizen’s Bank, International Paper Co., Pratt (Jet Corr) Inc., Robert & Wade Glover Farms, the W.A. Boyette family, Southern Produce Distributors and Wells Fargo & Co. Hill also recognized Clay T. Strickland Farms and Triple J Produce for creating new endowments.

The signing ceremony and dinner took place at the Wilson Agricultural Center, where Hill said that it’s no accident that North Carolina is the nation’s leading sweet-potato-producing state. Rather, he said, it’s due to industry members’ ingenuity and hard work; leadership of the SweetPotato Commission, including executive director Sue Johnson-Langdon and board members; a partnership with the college; and a shared commitment to the future, as evidenced by the campaign.

Dr. Steve Lommel, the college’s associate dean and director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service, noted that no other agricultural industry has created an endowment equal in stature to the Covington Endowment and that the funding would help keep the industry strong.

“The sweet potato industry has always been a model for other agricultural industry groups, and this is another example of your leadership,” he said.

The endowment is named for an NC State University Extension horticulture specialist who was affectionately known as “Mr. Sweet Potato.” Serving with the university from 1948 to 1974 and active with the industry through his death in 2004, Henry Covington contributed to incredible growth and success in the early sweet potato industry in North Carolina. During his career, North Carolina sweet potato yields more than doubled and the state emerged as the nation’s leader in sweet potato production.

– D. Shore