Sweet potato campaign charges toward $1.3 million goal

In the 1940s a small group of forward-thinking farmers planted the first acres of certified sweet potato varieties in North Carolina at the urging of horticultural research and Extension faculty from N.C. State University.

Sixty years later, the state’s sweet potato industry leads the United States, producing nearly 40 percent of the nation’s supply. Through the years, the partnership between farmers and university faculty has continued to fuel innovation in plant varieties, production and storage methods.

Today, leaders in the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission are spearheading a campaign to ensure the future of this productive partnership.

The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission Campaign for Excellence has raised $710,000 to date, more than half of its $1.3 million goal. A new kind of collaboration between the commission and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the campaign aims to raise funds for investment in the Henry M. Covington Endowment for Excellence in Sweet Potato Research and Extension.

Through competitive grants directed by the board of the N.C. SweetPotato Commission, the Covington Endowment provides perpetual funding for N.C. State research and Extension that supports the sweet potato industry.

Kendall Hill, a Lenoir County farmer and chair of the campaign, said every donation lightens the burden of the N.C. SweetPotato Commission, which traditionally has funded research. Other members of the campaign committee include Johnny Barnes, Jimmy Burch Sr., David Godwin, Sue Johnson-Langdon, Thomas Joyner, Tom Monaco, Stewart Precythe, Dewey Scott and George Wooten.

“I came to N.C. State in 1957 and saw firsthand how hard Dr. Covington and other university faculty worked for the sweet potato industry,” Hill said. “This is why I am so enthused and why we are working so hard to build this endowment. By 2011 when Mrs. Covington comes for her visit, we hope to exceed the goal we’ve set for this campaign.”

In a recent ceremony at the N.C. State University Club, the College celebrated the signing of several endowments to support the campaign:

• Burch Farms Endowment for Excellence in Sweet Potato Research and Extension
• Ham Farms and Produce Company Endowment for Excellence in Sweet Potato Research and Extension
• Daniel Franklin Kornegay Family Endowment for Excellence in Sweet Potato Research and Extension
• Henry F. Chancy Jr. and Laurie Barnes Chancy Endowment for Excellence in Sweet Potato Research and Extension
• Hershel M. and Agnes S. Williams Endowment for Excellence in Sweet Potato Research and Extension
• Hill Top Farm Service Center Endowment for Excellence in Sweet Potato Research and Extension
• Warren Farming Partnership Endowment for Excellence in Sweet Potato Research and Extension

Additionally, George Wooten of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Company Inc. has committed to the creation of an endowment in support of the initiative.

Also at the event, two donors signed commitments for major gifts to the campaign: David Morris, on behalf of AgCarolina Financial, and Dr. Ken Pecota, in a personal gift.

“The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission and its members have once again taken on a leadership role among the state’s commodity groups,” said Dr. Tom Monaco, College coordinator of commodity relations. “The Commission has a history of providing exceptional support for sweet potato research and extension programs. However, the creation of the Campaign for Excellence through the commitment of major gifts out of Commission members’ own pockets is unprecedented.”

The earned interest on the Covington Endowment eventually will be disbursed to support sweet potato research and Extension activities across various disciplines in the College. Faculty and staff are hard at work in a number of areas, including breeding, production, seed micropropagation, post-harvest curing, pest management and environmental stewardship.

Campaign for Excellence endowment founders are Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Carson Barnes, Johnny and Lisa Barnes, Burch Farms LLC, Henry and Laurie Chancy, David and Barbara Godwin, Kendall Hill, Hill Top Farm Service Center, Kornegay Farms, Mike Godwin Farms Inc., Scott Farms Inc., Vick Family Farms, Warren Farming Partnership, and the Hershel and Agnes Williams Family.

— Suzanne Stanard

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