Consumers demand their produce be fresh. But, the only indicator of freshness available to a shopper is appearance. To attract sales, breeders and growers have worked hard to achieve produce uniformity for common items like cabbage, potatoes, peaches plums or strawberries. Sweetpotatoes, a produce estimated at $324 million in North Carolina in 2019, vary the most in size and shape when compared to all fresh produce items. As an example, the price per pound of an overly large, overly small or misshaped sweetpotato is frequently discounted as much as 80- 90% of the value of a root grading US No. 1. Consistent produce/food quality may be achieved by bridging knowledge gaps between natural ecosystems and anthropogenic agricultural production dynamics.

Check out the variability in size and shape of sweetpotatoes  within the packing lines

Over the past several years, the sweetpotato industry has moved toward optical sorting and grading technologies to improve packing efficiency. Although this technology has been a significant step forward for the industry, the addition of tailored technologies developed by the NC State Sweet-Apps project will provide new value to the industry by building capacity to distinguish defects in stored sweetpotato roots that reduce marketability and limit profit margins (e.g., root shape, internal necrosis, surface blemishes).

The Sweet-APPS Project

The long-term goals of this project will advance fundamental and applied research, transdisciplinary training, and stakeholder engagement opportunities associated with the Plant Science Initiative housed at North Carolina State University.  

Our Vision: We will develop new technologies to minimize waste and maximize value for North Carolina sweetpotato producers, growers, and packers through innovations in high-throughput imaging, optical sensing and diagnostics, and integrated data analytics.

Our Mission: Develop an integrated data analytics and decision support platform that helps optimize management strategies to resolve inconsistencies in sweetpotato storage root quality, thereby improving outcomes and increasing produce value for North Carolina growers and packers.    

Strategic Goals (SGs)

SG 1:  Stakeholder Engagement (Led by Khara Grieger) 

Communicate and engage with stakeholders to identify current and emerging agronomic opportunities for technological innovation, assess related incentives and barriers, and disseminate management, handling, and storage strategies for market competitiveness and to reduce food waste. See more details here

SG 2:  Sensing and Imaging Systems (Led by Mike Kudenov)

Develop research and production-scalable diagnostic sensing systems that quantify external (e.g. shape, size, composition) and internal (e.g. pest/pathogen damage, internal voids, and rot) properties of sweetpotatoes both on the packing line and in the field.

SG 3:  Data Management and Analytics  (Led by Cranos Williams)

Create a secure data management, integration, and analytics platform that will integrate data across the sweetpotato supply chain (e.g. imaging and sensing features, cultural practices, soil type, and weather) and enable data management, querying, and analytics by stakeholders for optimized decision support. 

SG 4: Translational Research and Workforce Development  (Led by Daniela Jones)

Develop agricultural workforce training opportunities that integrate hands-on learning, cooperative extension, transdisciplinary education, and active stakeholder engagement to identify and address agro-economic problems encountered by North Carolina sweetpotato growers and packers through translational research.