Encouraging Expanded Organic Sweet Potato Production in North Carolina

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
John Kimber
NC SweetPotato Commission Foundation

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes


  • Crop Production: cover crops, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic

    Proposal summary:

    Despite several multi-year studies into organically managed sweet potato systems by the Department of Horticultural Science at NC State University (Treadwell et al 2004 and 2008), the expansion of organic sweet potato production in North Carolina has lagged. The NC sweet potato industry has been uncharacteristically restrained in responding to growing sales demand for organic sweet potatoes within the US. Consider the following:
    1. In the US the Organic Trade Association notes organic food purchases, at $26.7 billion annually, are up 7.7% from 2009 and 5.1% from 2008.
    2. The USDA NASS 2007 Organic Census values organic sweet potato sales at $24.7 million; with 84% being produced in California and just15% in North Carolina.
    3. Meanwhile, with an overall US crop value of $478 million (conventional and organic), values were more balanced; 32% was produced in California, 33% in North Carolina.

    For perspective, North Carolina sweet potato growers' willingness and ability to expand production has allowed our state to be the largest sweet potato producing state since 1971; harvesting nearly half of the US acreage with a farm value exceeding $176 million.

    It is the view of the Board of the NC Sweet Potato Commission Foundation (composed of all sweet potato growers) that NC growers can and should be encouraged to more seriously consider the revenue opportunities possible through expanding organic sweet potato production in NC. It is strongly felt that there is a disconnect between the crop research efforts to date and the outreach to growers that defines and encourages applying the appropriate crop science to access an expanding market place. Our Board sees this as an opportunity for leadership within our state's industry and seeks support for a proposal aimed at educating our growers about organic sweet potatoes.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Develop and deploy a survey of organic growers to gather information on current in-state organic growing methods,
    2. Apply the survey data to facilitate designing and conducting comparative organic sweet potato growing tests. The tests will couple prior NCSU research with current on-farm practices to create several scenarios. Replicated tests will occur at several on-farm locations and at the NCSU organic research station,
    3. Gather and compile the resultant data (cultural practices, yield, quality, and costs), and
    4. Present the findings to NC sweet potato growers through field days and direct outreach.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.