Knowing Your Roots

Everyone has that one neighbor with a perfect lawn.  In order to get the envy of the neighborhood, that homeowner must manage several aspects of his or her lawn, and it starts with the soil.  Soil type, water holding capacity, pH, nutrients and minerals, as well as pest and weed control properties, all play a role in the final appearance the lawn will have.  It takes a lot of work to have the perfect lawn, but those that do, start with the best soil.

It’s no different for farmers.  We always hear about corn and soybeans, but instead we’ll use an example that every Wisconsinite eats – potatoes.  Both Wisconsin’s soil and climate create an ideal growing environment for Wisconsinite’s (and American’s) favorite vegetable.  Potatoes are grown in three main regions of the state. But, the most famous of these are the central sands counties of Adams, Waushara, Portage, Wood and Waupaca.   This is where the bulk of potatoes are grown. It is the combination of the cool northern climate – with a rapid warm up in the spring, and the soil that makes this the perfect place for potato production.

The soil in the central sands lacks organic material and has a lower density (larger air pockets).  It also has the perfect pH (level of acidity) and minerals necessary for potato growth.  These aspects allow potatoes to grow quickly and consistently.  In addition, potatoes grown in this soil are subject to less plant disease. 

Whether a farmer is growing corn, soybeans or potatoes, pests, weeds and diseases present significant challenges that affect both the quality and quantity of the growing crop.  However, by selecting the ideal environment in terms of both climate and soil, the farmer can use nature as a management technique.  Utilizing the environment to aid in pest and disease control, the central sands region helps potato farmers naturally fight these potentially harmful conditions.

Wisconsin Potatoes

Growing food, like potatoes, in the most suitable soil allows farmers to utilize sustainable farming practices.  In the case of potatoes, this would include integrated pest management techniques, water conservation and the preservation of Wisconsin’s native ecosystems. So, the next time you look at a lawn, which is the envy of the neighborhood, or dig into that bag of potato chips, remember the important role of Wisconsin’s climate and soils.

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