Sweetpotato Breeding and Genetics Research Program

The Sweetpotato Breeding and Genetics Program at North Carolina State University, one of the oldest sweetpotato breeding programs in the US, has a long history of success. Sweetpotatoes are the most important vegetable crop in North Carolina and are a major economic driver in rural eastern NC. During 2019-2020, our farmers produced over 1.5 billion pounds of sweetpotato, accounting for roughly 60% of the nation’s supply and ca. $300 million/year in farm receipts (4-year average). NC’s sweetpotato success story is recognized globally, and the state is considered one of the premier sweetpotato producers in the world, with over 415 farms and 28 storage facilities, packing facilities, and food manufacturers providing jobs in rural communities.

Likewise, NC State University has unparalleled expertise in sweetpotato research, encompassing breeding, genomics, quantitative genetics, cultural management, plant pathology, seed systems, food science, biological and agricultural engineering, economics, and, in today’s information-intensive world, new projects in advanced data analytics and computer visualization.

The Sweetpotato Breeding and Genetics Program is led by Dr. Craig Yencho with the assistance of Ken Pecota, who manages our field breeding activities. Our laboratories and greenhouse are located on NC State’s main campus, and our primary research site is located at the Horticultural Crops Research Station in Clinton, NC. We also have extensive trialing sites at: the Cunningham Research Station and Caswell Research Farm in Kinston, NC; the Central Crops Research Station in Clayton, NC; and the Sandhills Research Station in Jackson Springs, NC; as well as 3-5 on-farm trials each year that are located in the heart of the NC sweetpotato production region. 

The program’s goals are to: 1) develop sweetpotato varieties adapted to the growing conditions of North Carolina and the southeastern US; 2) broaden the germplasm base of cultivated sweetpotato through the incorporation of land races and related species; and 3) provide advanced training for national and international students and scientists interested in sweetpotato improvement. We use a combination of conventional, biochemical, and genomic-assisted breeding as necessary and feasible to facilitate our breeding efforts. 

Current Largest Research Projects

Sweetpotato Variety Development and Farmer-Participatory Breeding.

A NCSPC-supported research project focused on developing new sweetpotato varieties for North Carolina growers that have exceptional yield, appearance, and quality characteristics

Development of Processing Type Sweetpotato Varieties

An effort supported by growers and several processing industry partners focused on developing new sweetpotato varieties for the French Fry and chip processing markets.

Rapid Development of Marketable Root-Knot Nematode Resistant Sweetpotato Varieties: Translation of Genomics and Advanced Phenomics into On-Farm Crop Management Solutions.

A USDA-NIFA SCRI research and extension project focused on quickly developing control strategies for the Guava Root Knot Nematode, Meloidogyne enterolobii, a newly introduced pest threatening our industry, and beginning longer-term, genomic-assisted sweetpotato breeding strategies to develop germplasm and new varieties with resistance to GRKN.

SweetGAINS (Sweetpotato Genetic Advances and Innovative Seed Systems).

SweetGAINS is a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded project supporting collaboration between NCSU, the International Potato Center, the Boyce Thompson Institute, UGA, the UT Institute of Agriculture, and the National Crops Resources Research Institute to modernize sweetpotato breeding in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Development and commercialization of purple-fleshed sweetpotatoes.

An NCDA&CS New and Emerging Crops Program project focused on the rapid release of a new generation of purple-fleshed sweetpotato varieties.

Ornamental Sweetpotato Breeding and Variety Development.

A project supported by Proven Winners® The #1 Plant Brand® that has resulted in the release of over 25 ornamental sweetpotato varieties to date.

Research Partnerships

Contact Us

Are you interested in partnering with us for sweetpotato and potato breeding and genetic research? We look forward to hearing from you!

Support the Sweetpotato and Potato Breeding and Genetics Programs

Your gift will support the Department of Horticultural Science, including but not limited to, the Sweetpotato and Potato Breeding and Genetics Programs. Funds are collected and managed by the NC Agricultural Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax id 56-6049304. You will receive a receipt for your donation.