Goodness Grows In North Carolina
Sweetpotato Outline


Association Name Commodity History Regional Information Production
Packaging Shipping Buying Nutritional Information

I. Association Name: N.C. SweetPotato Commission

A. Commodity Represented
North Carolina Sweet Potatoes; North Carolina is the #1 producer of sweet potatoes in the United States. Today more than 40% of the national supply of sweet potatoes comes from NC.

In 1993, Mrs. Celia Batchelor's fourth grade civics class at Elvie Street School in Wilson, NC was visited by Representative Gene Arnold from Wilson County. His visit inspired her students to become involved in their state government.

These fourth grade students, along with their parents and teachers, began a letter writing campaign to the State Legislature requesting that the sweet potato be named as the state vegetable. The entire community became involved in the campaign!

After two years of letter writing and a lot of hard work, the bill passed in the General Assembly's summer session of 1995. At last the sensational sweet potato was declared as the Official Vegetable of the State of North Carolina!

B. Types of Commodity
Beauregard, Carolina Rose, Carolina Ruby, Cordner, Hernandez, Jewel, NC Porto Rico 198

C. Is there a National Promotion Month for the Commodity?
No

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II. Commodity History

A. North Carolina Background
1. Is the crop originally from NC or did it originate elsewhere? Where?
The sweet potato is a native crop in North Carolina.

2. When was it brought to NC?
Native Crop

3. How was it brought to NC and by whom?
American Indians were growing sweet potatoes when Columbus discovered America in 1492. Sweet potatoes have been around since prehistoric times. Some scientists believe that dinosaurs might have eaten these delicious vegetables.

4. Was it brought to a specific region? Is this the same region in which it is now mainly grown?
Coastal Plain, Yes

B. Uses
1. How is the product used?
Eaten Raw, Steamed, Boiled, Microwaved, and Fried

2. Has today's use changed from its original use?
We now have chips, frozen and microwave products.

3. If yes, how was it originally used and why was there a shift in use?
Originally it was used fresh or baked. Increased technology brought changes in preparation.

C. Industry Changes
1. How has technology changed the industry? What are some of these improvements/changes?
Storage systems have improved availability, sweet potatoes are now available all year. New varieties have increased the production per acre. Curing systems have improved overall quality.

2. How have the uses for the product changed over the years?
Sweet potatoes are now being processed into frozen and microwave products and even sweet potato chips unlike before where all sweet potato foods were from the fresh product (baked, candied, etc.)

3. Has consumption/use of the product increased/decreased? Why?
Decreased on a per capita basis. Sweet potatoes are considered a regional food of the South and as the population grows more quickly in other areas, the per capita consumption across the country decreases even if we eat the same amount per capita.

D. Future Outlook
1. How is the industry changing currently?
Fresh crop grading capabilities are becoming more specific. There is an effort to get sweet potatoes more involved in the foodservice market, ie., fries, chips and fresh cut for salads.

2. Are there any future projects that would change how the industry is maintained?
The industry is changing by having sweetpotatoes in processed foods other than just fresh product.
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III. Regional Information

A. Region
1. Where in the state is the commodity grown?
Coastal Plain

2. If more than one location, where is it the most abundant?
Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties produce the most sweet potatoes. Sampson, Colombus, Wayne, Harnett, Cumberland, Edgecombe and Duplin counties also produce sweetpotatoes. Johnston county is the number one producer of sweet potatoes.

3. Why can't it be grown in another section of the state? Or why the difference in production from area to area?
Because the sweet potato is a root crop, it is more suited to the sandy loams and temperate climate of the Coastal Plain.

4. When is the growing season?
May through late October

B. Climate
1. What kind of weather does the commodity like?
Temperate

2. Is there a specific condition the commodity needs (full sun, shade, etc.)?
Full sunshine and regular moderate rainfall

3. Are there ideal temperatures the commodity needs?
70-90 degrees daytime and 55-65 degree nights

C. Soil
1. What type of soil works best with this commodity? Why? Is it rich in a specific nutrient, etc.?
A sandy type of soil which is found near the coast works best.

2. Is there an ideal temperature for the soil?
The soil should be temperate like the weather and stay around 70-90 degrees in the daytime with 55-65 degree nights.

3. Do certain soil conditions increase crop production? If yes, what are they?
Well drained, sandy loams that hold nutrients and are free of plant pathogens.

D. Weather Conditions
1. In emergency weather conditions what precautions are taken? Are precautions usually preventative (advance) or reactive (as it occurs)?
Since sweet potatoes are adversely effected by too much water, they are planted on raised beds that allow excess water to drain away from the plant.
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IV. Production

A. Production Steps
1. When are seeds planted?
Seed potatoes (selected from previous year's crop) are planted in March. By April, sprouts are of sufficient size to take cuttings, which are transplanted directly into the field. Planting takes place throughout April, May, and June.

2. What is the estimated time before sprouts appear?
About 4 weeks (between planting seeds in March to sprouts appearing in April)

3. How long generally before the crop is ready to be harvested?
Approximately 120 days are required between transplanting and harvest. The first sweet potatoes are ready to be harvested in late August and the process continues until early November.

4. Once the crop is taken from the ground where does it go? Is it stored somewhere before it is ready for use? Or does it get packaged right away? If stored, what is it stored in and why?
      Some sweetpotatoes are washed and graded for sale as soon as they are dug. This is called the "green crop." Others are cured and stored in large bins until they are needed for market.
     "Cured" is the process of allowing the skin on the potatoes to tighten, the starches to turn to sugars, and the abrasions to heal. "Cured" potatoes are sweeter than "green stock" and are more resistant to skinning. When sweet potatoes are cured they are kept at a constant temperature of about 85 degrees and at a relative humidity of 85 to 95 percent for 5 to 7 days. Once the curing process is over, sweet potatoes are placed in storage at 55-65 degrees until needed for market.

B. Production Materials
1. Is there any special equipment used during the whole production process? What are they?
Automatic harvesters, called "diggers" are used to harvest the crop, however, they cause excessive skinning and a majority of the potatoes are plowed and then harvested by hand. Diggers received their name because they go underground and bring the sweetpotatoes to the surface. Once sweet potatoes are gathered and loaded onto trucks they are taken to the storage sheds.

2. How was the production process handled before technological developments? What types of machines, if any, were used in the process?
Before mechanical transplanters, sweet potatoes were "pegged" into the ground by hand.

3. Are pesticides used in crop production? What are the most common types?
Muti-purpose fumigants that attack nematodes and other soil borne pathogens. Herbicides are used only if tillage is not sufficient to control weeds.

C. Grading
1. Is there an inspection that the product must go through before being packaged/sold?
Most packing houses grade their product according to buyer specifications and use in-house quality control measures.

2. Is the inspection conducted by county, state, or national officials?
State officials inspect on a random basis for food protection, but other state officials are used upon the request of the packing house to certify certain quality or grade. These inspections are most often required by the buyer.

3. What agency is responsible for the grading/testing and setting the standards?
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has inspectors that can certify produce as to a certain grade or standard. The standards are provided by the buyer or by USDA Standards.

4. How is the grading done? Is it for each individual piece, or per field, per farm, etc.?
Representative samples of the product (ready for sale) are taken and inspected for size, grade, defects and shape requirements. These samples are then used for the whole crop.

5. Give a basic breakdown of the scale used and what it means
Grade requirements: Similar type, reasonably firm, fairly well shaped, fairly well colored, free from damage and disease. A number one grade is the highest grade a sweet potato can receive.
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V. Packaging

A. Is the product usually sold fresh, frozen, dried, etc.?
Fresh, although frozen and dehydrated product is available.

B. If product is sold in a variety of ways what is the most common in NC?
Fresh

C. Is the product packaged? If yes, how? (bags, boxes, bottles, etc)
Forty pound cardboard boxes are the standard, but they can be bagged or individually pressure wrapped.

D. Why is it done this way? Is it economical, prevents bruising, industry standard or for shipping purposes, etc.?
Economical standard for the industry
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VI. Shipping

A. Distribution
1. What is the most common method of distribution in your industry?
Chain store warehouse to store to customer

2. Is the product sold mainly to retail, food service, wholesale, specialty outlets or a variety of outlets? What is the most common?
Wholesale distribution to retail outlets such as grocery stores.

3. Does the product go to one place, then another before ending up on a grocery store shelf or restaurant? If yes, where does it go?
Farm, Curing, Storage, Grading & Packing, Store Warehouse and then Individual Stores.

4. Is the commodity exported? Domestically, internationally?
Sweet potatoes are marketed domestically (within the USA) throughout the Eastern United States. They are also exported internationally to Canada and Great Britain.

B. Transporting
1. How is the commodity normally transported (from farm to retail outlet?
Truck, enclosed trailer

2. Does the transportation vehicle require special features? (Refrigeration, etc.)
The section of the truck that is carrying the sweet potatoes must be enclosed (not open to the environment).

3. Have methods of transportation changed over the years? (Before automobiles, etc. how was it transported?) Or has method of transportation stayed the same? And if so, how is it done?
Before moving automobiles, horses and wagons were used. Upon the invention of the railroads during the Industrial Revolution, trains were used. As technology developed, trucks became the most common method of transportation.
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VII. Buying

A. Product
1. What is the product used for? Are there different uses?
Sweet potatoes are used as main dishes, side dishes, desserts, and drinks. Remember when cooking a sweetpotatoes that three medium sweet potatoes equal one pound. One pound of sweet potatoes equal 1 1/4 cups pureed.

2. When purchasing/inspecting the commodity (at the store) how do you know it is fresh?
Select firm, well-shaped, sweet potatoes with smooth skin. Avoid those with soft spots, bruises, or any signs of decay.

3. Is there a trick to buying and finding ripe/fresh product? (Smell, thumping, shaking, color etc.)
Make sure that you pick sweet potatos that are free from bruises.

4. What are the storage techniques for the crop after being brought home?
Do not refrigerate sweet potatoes unless they are cooked. Cold temperatures can cause them to become bitter. Instead, store them in a cool, dry place and use them within a week or two. When cutting a sweet potato always use a stainless steel knife and place them into cold water to prevent darkening.

B. Labels
1. Is your product required to carry a label?
Sweet potatoes must carry a label stating net weight, distribution point, and grade statement.

2. Is there an industry standard for the label, or is it individualized for each company/producer/grower?
Individualized, but all have required minimum information.
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VIII. Nutritional Information

A. Food Pyramid
1. What group of the food pyramid does the commodity fall into?
Vegetable

2. Is there a recommended daily allowance of this? What is it?
Two to Four

B. What nutrients are found in the commodity? How is this helpful?
Sweet potatoes are good for your health! They are low in sodium, cholesterol free, fat free, high in fiber, contain minerals and vitamins A, C and E. Sweet potatoes are also more nutritious if cooked with the skin on. They are also rich in beta-carotene (a special kind of vitamin A). This vitamin helps your body wage war against free-radicals. Free-radicals try to damage your cells, but beta-carotene coats your cells and helps your immune system fight back.
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