North Carolina grows more sweet potatoes than the rest of the United States combined.
In 2016, North Carolina produced 1.7 billion pounds of sweet potatoes, nearly three times as many as California – the second highest producing state.
California produced 629 million pounds, Mississippi 493 million, Louisiana 152 million and every other state put together produced 180 million pounds.
North Carolina has been the leader in sweet potato production since 1971, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics collected by the Carolina Population Center at UNC, Carolina Demography.
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The 1.7 billion pounds of the Thanksgiving staple in 2016 amount to about 5.3 pounds of sweet potatoes for every American.
Production of sweet potatoes in North Carolina has climbed 144 percent from 2006, according to USDA statistics.
North Carolina produced less than 4 million pounds of sweet potatoes in 2000.
Four North Carolina counties produced more sweet potatoes than the entire state of Louisiana in 2016: Sampson, 272 million pounds; Wilson, 213 million pounds; Nash, 183 million pounds; Johnston, 179 million pounds.
North Carolina’s agricultural industry contributes $84 billion to the state’s economy and employs more than 1 in 6 North Carolina workers, according to the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Two of the state’s lead agricultural products—sweet potatoes and turkeys—will grace many Thanksgiving tables on Thursday, according to the Carolina Demography.
North Carolina was still well ahead of the rest of the country in sweet potato production in 2016, despite Hurricane Matthew, which devastated several farms across the state.
In Johnston County, which has about 110,000 acres of cropland producing corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat, tobacco, peanuts, sweet potatoes and other commodities, losses from the storm’s heavy rain and extensive flooding were expected to top $19 million.
The worst of the loss was high-value crops including sweet potatoes, one of the most vulnerable crops to storms.
Power outages and heavy rain damaged crops still in the field and sweet potatoes being stored. A farmer can safely store a harvested sweet potato for up to 12 months.
About half of Johnston’s crop was still in the ground before Hurricane Matthew hit in October 2016. Any fields covered in floodwaters were a total loss.