The production value of the sweet potato crop in North Carolina is more than $173 million.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state led the U.S. in production in 2010, with 41% of domestic sweet potatoes, followed by California with 27% of the total, reported digtriad.com.
The value of production for the U.S. crop last year was just over $478 million.
"As people have discovered the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes, the demand has increased," says Terrell Williams of Autryville, North Carolina.
"As a farm owner, sweet potatoes can be a successful crop. The biggest challenge that I (and other owners) face is finding willing labor to bring in the crop when it's ready. Even with the unemployment rate at the current high level, it's incredibly difficult to find local workers willing to take a physically hard, seasonal job.
"We rely on the Guest Worker program and the NCGA to bring in legal workers. If this program didn't exist, there's a good chance the crop would rot in the fields and my farm would go under."
In the past, production of sweet potatoes peaked in November, in time for the holidays. This pattern has shifted over the past few years with crops timed to mature from June through November, to meet increased consumer demand.
In North Carolina, the number of farms producing the crop has declined from 954 in 1992 to 389 in 2007, while the number of acres under production increased from 38,682 to 42,1082.
The North Carolina Growers Association works to address the perpetual labor shortage faced by today's farmers.