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Partner Profile: North Carolina SweetPotato Commission

several sweet potatoes in a crate

North Carolina is the largest producer of sweetpotatoes in the United States. The multimillion-dollar crop is grown on more than 94,000 acres of the state’s farmland, mainly in the sandy soils along the I-95 corridor in Johnston, Sampson, Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties. Ensuring that the state remains the No.1 producer of sweetpotatoes is of utmost interest to the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission. The 400+-member organization mission is to increase sweetpotato consumption through promotion, marketing, education and research. Their dedication to that mission includes supporting the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative (N.C. PSI).

“We currently hold the No. 1 position for sweetpotato production nationally. To maintain that status, we must always look towards the future and that includes research,” says Michelle Grainger, executive director of the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission. “We feel strongly that N.C. PSI and the opportunities which will inevitably come out of the collaborations within the PSI will position us to be a recipient of new and exciting research that will no doubt benefit our producers, packers and shippers.”

The commission is specifically interested in identifying new varieties of sweetpotatoes that are resistant to pests and disease, easier to harvest and require less infrastructure for curing, all while protecting taste and quality standards.

“Because of the technology and collaboration between producers, NC State and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Research, we have been able to ensure that NC has a steady, year-round supply of N.C. sweetpotatoes, and that they taste just as good the following July as they do in September when they come out of the field,” says Grainger.

N.C. PSI is just one example of how the commission participates in research by providing funding for infrastructure to further the body of knowledge and promote research. The commission also encourages its members to actively participate in projects by collaborating with university scientists and offering fields, storage and packing facilities to conduct their research on a few of their farms.

“Once research is finalized, we make sure our members are the first to receive it and implement it in their operations from greenhouses, to the fields, the curing process, packaging and shipping,” says Grainger.

Educating consumers, growers and producers about the nutritional superfood is another main goal of the commission.

The commission’s devotion to the success of N.C. farmers drives its advocacy for agriculture research.   

“What we wear, what we eat, the roofs over our heads, are all tied directly to farmers and ranchers in our state and in our country,” says Grainger. “We must continue with our partners to advocate for agriculture through research, education and general awareness to maintain our position in the market. Our members depend on it.”