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Revived North Carolina's foundering sweet potato industry

NCSU NCSU_Purple_Splendor_Sweetpotato.jpg
Purple Splendor developed by the North Carollina State  University sweetpotato breeding team.
By 2017, amount of sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina had nearly doubled and the state reclaimed its place as the leading producer.

You need look no further than the sweet potato variety Covington to see the success of the sweet potato breeding program at North Carolina State University. N.C. State writer Bill Krueger  tells the story that prior to Covington coming out in 2005, sweet potato farmers across eastern North Carolina were telling their kids to find another line of work because they couldn’t count on  a decent crop of sweet potatoes.

Prior to the release of Covington, North Carolina sweet ptotato farmers were primarily planting the variety Beauregard developed in Louisiana State University in 1987. Soon, Beauregard lost its edge in North Carolina, becoming more susceptible to disease and not performing so well.

Beginning  in 1997, the N.C. State sweet potato breeding team, led by Craig Yencho and Ken Pecota, went to work on finding a variety better suited for North Carolina. In 2005, they released Covington that  has become the number one variety planted across North Carolina because it performs well in the field and produces a high percentage of “number ones,” with the familiar shape, size and look to be sold in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

“By 2017, the amount of sweetpotatoes grown in North Carolina had nearly doubled and the state had reclaimed its place as the leading producer of sweetpotatoes in the United States,” Krueger writes.

A success story, indeed.

Now, Yencho, Pecota and their team have released two new purple sweet potato varieties, Purple Splendor and Purple Majesty. If the purple sweet potato market takes off, these two purples will certainly be the go to choice for North Carolina farmers.

Still, orange sweet potatoes remain the favorite of consumers;  Pecota and  Yencho are continuing their quest to breed varieties that meet market demand and put money in the pockets of North Carolina sweet potato farmers. Yencho says more than 60% of NC State’s sweet potato breeding working is now focused on developing varieties that are resistant to the troublesome guava root knot nematode.

I have every confidence that new sweet potato varieties resistant to guava root knot nematode will be available to farmers sooner rather than later. Yencho, Pecota and their team are on the job. They successfully brought us Covington in 2005 and now, Purple Splendor and Purple Majesty.

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