By on 11.24.20 in NC in Focus

The Thanksgiving holiday is important to North Carolina’s agriculture, as we continue to lead in sweet potato production across the nation. Once relegated to the holidays primarily, the sweet potato has now been embraced as an important staple in healthy diets.

In fact, sweet potatoes were ranked among the top ten best foods to eat regularly, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Whether you serve North Carolina’s state vegetable year-round or only at Thanksgiving, let’s dive into the fun facts surrounding one of the state’s most valuable agricultural exports.

#1

North Carolina’s rank in sweet potato production among all 50 states, according to 2019 data from the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service. It has maintained this ranking since 1971.

3

The number of states accounting for total US sweet potato production in 2019:
North Carolina, California, and Mississippi.

This marks the first year since 2000 that no other states contributed to production.

2 Billion

Approximate pounds of sweet potatoes that North Carolina produced in 2019!

This is a cause for celebration, as hurricanes significantly impacted the 2018 harvest. North Carolina has now returned to previous levels of sweet potato production.

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61%

North Carolina’s share of national sweet potato production in 2019 – 21 percentage points greater than last year’s harvest.

This marks the highest share of sweet potatoes produced for the nation by North Carolina since 2000.

$324 Million

Value of the 2019 sweet potato harvest. This harvest was worth approximately 37% more than the previous year ($236 million).

This is the second-highest grossing harvest in the last five years behind 2014 ($348 million).

Sweet potatoes represented NC’s 4th most valuable crop in 2019, behind soybeans ($468 million), corn ($459 million), and tobacco ($441 million).

Sampson County

As in previous years, Sampson County was the single-largest producer of sweet potatoes in the state, accounting for 14% of production in 2019.

Overall, the three leading counties this year were:

  • Sampson (269 million pounds)
  • Johnston (229 million pounds)
  • Lenoir (101 million pounds)

All counties are reporting higher production compared to last year when hurricanes significantly reduced North Carolina’s sweet potato harvest.

Note: many counties chose to withhold specific production numbers (pdf) to avoid disclosing data on individual farms.

Map of North Carolina counties producing sweet potatoes

With the exception of county-level data retrieved from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, all data used in this post were retrieved from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.