It is estimated that we will need to double worldwide crop production by 2050 to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing global population, and yet the availability of agricultural land in the US is declining.
- How do we face this immense challenge when US agriculture is already operating at peak efficiency?
- How can we guarantee that Americans will have a safe and reliable food supply at prices they can afford?
- How can we ensure that our food supply is not dependent on imports (think of what our dependency on foreign oil is doing to our economy)?
The answers to these questions reside in the ingenuity and dedication of American farmers who for centuries have risen to the challenges of producing more with less on fewer acres. Nowhere else is this better exemplified than in Wisconsin where vegetable production in the nation’s heartland is vital to continuing US food security. Vegetables are recognized as an essential component of a healthy diet, and the Central Sands area of Wisconsin has emerged as one of a small handful of pre-eminent potato, vegetable and specialty crop production areas in the nation. Ranked in the top 3 in the US for the production of potatoes and processed vegetables such as, sweet corn, green beans, carrots, onions, cabbage, beets and cucumbers, this abundant agricultural area has been built through the hard work of multiple generations of family farms that characterize the Central Sands today. These farms were not built with federal subsidies but with the intelligent use of new technologies and tools that improve production capacity and with the judicious investment in research—collaboration with University of Wisconsin partners—that ensures the advancements in productivity are accompanied by sustainable use of the land and natural resources. The Central Sands is an essential component of our national food supply chain; geographically, we are perfectly positioned to meet the needs of major urban populations in the Midwestern and eastern US.
The Wisconsin vegetable industry has thrived and grown because growers have worked together. In 1945, they formed the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA), which was built on the successes of nation’s 1st Seed Potato Improvement Association (1905). This grower-led organization—located in Antigo— is self- supported by growers; they tax themselves on their sales to generate revenue that is used to conduct research, provide scholarships, stay in touch with consumers and educate its farmer-members in sustainable production (they have been nationally recognized as a leader in this field). The WPVGA annually contributes over $400,000 to UW research and recently joined forces with the Department of Natural Resources in a major new water research initiative.
The processed vegetable industry is also closely linked to production through its trade association, the Midwest Food Processors Association (MWFPA), formed in 1905 and located in Madison. The goals of the MWFPA can be simply stated: advocate, educate, communicate and facilitate. The MWFPA also funds research and recently joined with the UW in securing a major USDA grant to enhance sustainability of sweet corn and green bean production nationally.
The key role of the Wisconsin vegetable industry is to ensure that the nation’s continuing food security is of paramount importance to all US citizens. Over the next few months, we will be chronicling the typical weekly challenges that vegetable growers experience during the growing season. The goal is to help everyone gain a better understanding of where their food comes from, of the challenges that must be overcome to guarantee its continued availability and of the remarkable achievements growers have made and will continue to make. We welcome you to our weekly thoughts for food.
For those seeking a deeper understanding of specific issues, we will link these short articles to the websites of the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (http://wisa.cals.wisc.edu/), the WPVGA (http://wisconsinpotatoes.com/) and the MWFPA (http://www.mwfpa.org/).