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Craig Yencho

Department of Horticultural Science

William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor

Program Leader Sweetpotato and Potato Breeding and Genetics Programs

Kilgore Hall 214A




Dr. Yencho has research responsibilities (100%) in sweetpotato and potato breeding and genetics. Research emphasis is on developing disease and insect resistant table-stock, processing and specialty-type sweetpotatoes and potatoes adapted to North Carolina’s growing conditions with improved root and tuber quality, respectively.

Research interests include plant breeding, plant resistance to insects and pathogens, use of wild and/or related plant germplasm as a source of commercially important traits, applications of genomics, molecular biology and plant biochemistry to plant breeding and the production of renewable, bio-based, value-added products in sweetpotato and potato, and international agricultural development.


Ph.D. Entomology/Plant Breeding (Minor) Cornell University 1993

M.S. Entomology Washington State University 1985

B.S. Bioscience Pennsylvania State University 1982


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Date: 02/03/22 - 6/30/27
Amount: $2,141,332.00
Funding Agencies: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Award will fund 6 individual projects related to Guava Root-Knot Nematode: a)Renovation of Method Road Nematology Laboratory and Greenhouse Range facilities for work with the Guava Root-Knot Nematode (Meloidogyne enterolobii) b)Research Towards a Rapid, Species-specific, Field Deployable Test for GRKN and Advancement of Molecular Diagnostics for Soil and Sweetpotato Samples c)Evaluating Integrated Use of Fumigants, Nematicides, and Rotational Crops for Management of GRKN in Sweetpotato in the Field, Storage, and Pack House d)On-Farm Crop Rotation and Cover Crop Evaluations, and Sweetpotato Clone Evaluations to Manage Guava Root-Knot Nematode d)Breeding Resistance to GRKN and SRKN into a New Generation of High Quality, Marketable Sweetpotato Cultivars for NC Growers e)Guava Root-Knot Nematode: A County Operations Action Plan

Date: 01/15/21 - 1/14/26
Amount: $238,500.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)

A Pipeline of a Resilient Workforce that integrates Advanced Analytics to the Agriculture, Food and Energy Supply Chain

Date: 09/01/21 - 8/31/25
Amount: $5,011,710.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)

We propose to deploy genomic and phenomic tools as an integrated approach for the development of superior sweetpotato varieties with robust resistance to M. enterolobii and M. incognita, and high storage root yield, shape and quality attributes that command a high market value. Beyond identifying the genetic components underpinning these traits, a breeding approach that accounts for the complex genetics of polyploidy (e.g. allele dose-dependent phenotypes) will be designed for combining multiple desirable traits in a single genetic background (i.e. multi-trait selection). This is particularly important in sweetpotato where a single important trait can break an otherwise remarkable variety. Resistance to GRKN and SRKNwill be studied within the context of a holistic nematode management strategy that maximizes economic and farm sustainability

Date: 09/01/20 - 8/31/24
Amount: $448,335.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)

The implementation of genomics-assisted breeding techniques in polyploid specialty crops is significantly delayed compared to diploid species. The development of new tools, user friendly interfaces and training materials are needed by polyploid crop breeders to accelerate genetic gain for key traits of importance and meet the needs of growers and consumers. Polyploid specialty crops contribute significantly to food production in the US and throughout the world. The list of polyploid specialty crops used for food includes roots and tubers (potato, sweet potato), fruit (strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, European plum, tart cherry, kiwi, persimmon, banana), vegetables (leek, watermelon), and other uses (coffee, basil, hops). The annual value of these crops in the US is about $9.5 billion and many times greater on a global scale. The production and use of polyploid food crops contributes substantially to the nutritional welfare and employment of millions of people. In addition to food crops, polyploid species are used as ornamentals (rose, chrysanthemum, lily, orchids, lantana) and for turfgrass (ryegrass, bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, bermudagrass, zoysia). The turfgrass and ornamental production sectors produce about 1/3 the value of all specialty crop production and 15% of agricultural production in the USA. This $16.7 billion industry employs about two million people and delivers an economic impact of at least $136 billion. The turfgrass and ornamentals used in home, private and public landscapes significantly impact human health and urban ecology. These plants enhance air and water quality, sequester carbon, reduce runoff and erosion, provide energy savings in heating and cooling, facilitate rain capture and storm water management, reduce noise and dust pollution, and promote wildlife habitat. In addition, they increase property values and psychological wellbeing. The production of food crops and the production and maintenance of turfgrass and ornamentals requires substantial resources (agricultural chemicals, fertilizers, and water). Given the increased scarcity of water and concern over the environmental contamination of agrochemicals, it is essential to move towards more sustainable production and landscape systems. A major component of these future more sustainable systems will be new cultivars with improved yield, quality and environmental resilience. Objective 1. The software developed will meet the five needs identified during the planning grant: (a) multi-SNP haplotype discovery and population genotyping using next-generation sequencing; (b) linkage mapping with multi-allelic markers and genotype quality scores; (c) GWAS and genomic selection in mixed ploidy populations and with multi-allelic markers; (d) QTL mapping in interconnected F1 populations; (e) fine mapping, haplotype visualization, and efficient assembly of QTL alleles across multiple loci. Objective 2. Software will be developed so the user can explore different designs for genetic mapping projects or breeding programs. Simulation options will include the mating design, genome size, meiotic properties, population size, and costs for genotyping and phenotyping. Objective 3. Complete documentation of the syntax and options for each software will be created, as well as example datasets and corresponding workflows. These training materials will be publicly available through a Polyploid Community Resource web page that will be developed and hosted by Washington State University. Graphical user interfaces will be developed for the command-line software developed in Objectives 1 and 2 and made available through the website. Hands-on workshops will be created to showcase the new software and train the polyploid breeding community about polyploid genetics and the use of the analytical toolset. Objective 4. Research projects involving the new computational tools are planned for six polyploid crops representing a range of ploidy levels, preferential pairing propensity, interspecific diversity among breeding germplasm, and genomic data/r

Date: 09/01/21 - 8/31/23
Amount: $158,891.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)

This proposal is being submitted as component of a regional breeding and variety evaluation effort designed to address the needs of potato growers and allied industry members located in the Eastern US. It is collaborative project, building on existing strengths and resources of the potato breeding community in the eastern US. It facilitates pooling of regional resources and promotes increased communication within the potato variety development community located in the northeast, mid-Atlantic and southeast. Successful completion of the project goals will: 1) improve potato productivity and quality for important eastern U.S. markets by developing and releasing superior potato varieties using conventional and marker-assisted potato breeding methods; 2) reduce the impact of economically important biotic and abiotic potato production constraints in the eastern U.S. by breeding and developing improved potato germplasm and varieties; 3) select widely-adapted potato varieties by screening yield, quality, and pest resistance traits at multiple eastern locations; 4) facilitate commercial adoption of improved new varieties by coordinating initial commercial trials and by developing management recommendations; and 5) enhance the availability and use of project-related, research-based information and improved potato germplasm through the use of digital media. All of this will contribute to the development of a more economically and ecologically sustainable potato production system in the mid-Atlantic and SE US.

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