GOLDSBORO, N.C. — It's been a good year for sweet potatoes, and it's a welcome relief after the weather early in the season gave other crops a run for their money. 


What You Need To Know

  • North Carolina has been the number one producer of sweet potatoes since 1971
  • The state harvested nearly 2 billion pounds of sweet potatoes last year
  • Harvest wraps up in early November


Many farmers, like Garrett Howell, grow multiple crops to diversify their interests and rotate fields. Howell Farming Co. started growing sweet potatoes nearly 40 years ago, back in 1985, and has been doing it ever since.

Garrett Howell inspecting sweet potatoes during harvest

"Sweet potatoes is one thing I have always known, been around them my whole entire life,” Howell said. “I couldn't imagine sitting in an office all day. This kind of work is all I ever seen my dad do, and as a kid, you look up to that, and you want to do it too, and I still do.”

Sweet potatoes thrive in North Carolina's warm and humid environment, making the state the leading producer for the crop in the country. According to the USDA, our farmers harvested a total of 1.8 billion pounds of sweet potatoes in 2021. That accounts for well over half of the total production in the U.S. – coming in at 64%.

“There's quite a bit of varieties, we only grow one variety though,” Howell said. “It gets sorted out later on after we cure them and start packing them. It gets sorted by size in the packing house ... they cure for about 10 days or so, and then you can store them for up to a year.”

In North Carolina, sweet potatoes are ready to harvest after approximately 120 days depending on weather, which Howell says is always a factor. Typically, harvest runs from late August through early November.

“You can't hardly kill 'em, they're tough,” Howell said. “When we planted these, it hadn't rained in three weeks, then it didn't rain for another month and a half, and we don't use transplant water or nothin,' and these things they survived.”

Howell sorting through the harvested first quality sweet potatoes

Each bin can hold 40 bushels, which equals about 2,000 pounds of sweet potatoes. Howell said his crew can harvest around 26 acres each day if the weather cooperates. Some of them can fill up to 450 buckets of sweet potatoes a day. He said he could never come anywhere close to keeping up with them.

“They work their tail off everyday,” Howell said. “This time of year they hustle, they love it. You'll see it. They're running back and forth from the truck to the row they're picking on. They go to war on it.”

Nearly 75% of Howell's crop ends up going overseas while the other 25% stays here in the U.S., ending up in grocery stores just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas when candied yams and sweet potato casseroles find their way onto dinner tables all over the country.