North Carolina research to save sweet potato farmers tons of money

North Carolina researchers have determined a post-harvest treatment that significantly reduces crop loss due to internal necrosis in Covington sweet potatoes. As about 90% of North Carolina’s sweet potatoes are of the Covington variety, this treatment will save the state’s sweet potato producers millions of dollars.

“Internal necrosis was becoming a big issue in the industry, so the Sweet Potato Commission decided we needed a task force to look at this from across the college,” said David Godwin, a third-generation sweet potato producer who has served on the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission in a number of roles. “When you’ve got an issue where you really don’t know what’s happening, you need to get somebody from every field and aspect of agriculture and life sciences to work on it.”

Wraltechwire.com reports on Jonathan Schultheis, a professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Horticultural Science who led the task force, stating that a survey of sweet potato storage rooms in 2010 and 2011 found 90% of the storage rooms had at least some roots with internal necrosis.

By changing the curing process — a heat treatment that encourages the roots to heal cuts and abrasions and converts starch into sugar after harvesting and before storing in a cool storage room — Schultheis and the task force determined a method to greatly reduce the incidence and severity of internal necrosis in Covington sweet potatoes.

Last month, the task force shared the solution with the scientific community in the form of a paper published in the journal HortTechnology. They shared the solution with sweet potato producers in 2017, after the first set of experiments proved successful.

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