Campus News

Leading sweet potato production for 50 years

In 2020 alone, North Carolina produced enough of the root vegetables to make around 850 million sweet potato casseroles.

North Carolina with a sweet potato and first place ribbon on it
North Carolina’s sweet potatoes generated a value of approximately $375 million in 2020 alone. (Illustration by Leighann Vinesett/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The year of 2020 was an especially challenging one for the fresh vegetable industry due to the historic wildfires over the West Coast; the August storms in the Northern Midwest and Hurricane Laura’s effect on Louisiana. Sweet potatoes were also adversely affected by these weather events. North Carolina, which continues to be the nation’s leader in sweet potato production, was also hit with excessive rain at the end of the growing season in 2020.

But, North Carolina has once again been identified as the No. 1 sweet potato producer in the United States as the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service 2020 data show. North Carolina has maintained its first place sweet potato rank since 1971.

North Carolina produced 1.7 billion pounds of sweet potatoes in 2020 — enough to make approximately 850 million sweet potato casseroles and requiring more than 557 million pounds of marshmallows.

Four North Carolina counties produced more than 100 million pounds of sweet potatoes in 2020: Sampson (259 million), Nash (187 million), Wilson (181 million) and Johnston (155 million).

Sampson leads North Carolina in sweet potato production: Map of NC shows all by 9 counties in gray. The 9 that are not gray are the top sweet potato producers. They are shaded from light green (signifying low sweet potato production) to dark blue (signifying high sweet potato production).

North Carolina produced 1.7 billion pounds of sweet potatoes in 2020. Considering all the climate challenges that the farms faced, this is a promising number, despite a 15% decrease from the last couple of years (2 billion). That would make approximately 850 million sweet potato casseroles (and involve more than 557 million pounds of marshmallows).

North Carolina’s sweet potatoes generated a value of approximately $375 million in 2020 alone. This is a 15.7% increase from 2019 ($324 million). Sweet potatoes are ranked the third most valuable crop of North Carolina in 2020 — the first being soybeans ($674 million) and the second, corn ($483 million).

Read more stories from Carolina Demography.