Fall is here in Wisconsin’s Central Sands! Highlights of yellow and orange are popping up in the hardwoods that mingle with the cropland of this uniquely productive area that is so important to the nation’s supply of potatoes and vegetables. The harvested fields are taking on an emerald sheen as the rye cover crops become established to protect and nourish the soil for next season. It’s time to rest the land for a spell, to recharge the groundwater that drives the system, and recharge the spirits of this remarkable group of growers who will use this time to learn and digest what worked and what still needs more work.
We hope that you have enjoyed the “Thoughts for Food” series of articles. Over the past 6 months, we have introduced you to the Central Sands region and its unique growers by taking you through the potato growing season. We have looked at the challenges faced each year in growing the crops, introduced you to innovations made by the industry, and explained the business of agriculture in a realistic, yet simple manner. This important industry, which is one of the economic engines of central Wisconsin, works hard to preserve the natural resources of the area for future generations. For a full re-cap of the season, you can journey back in time and check out any of the topic areas at your leisure (search the archives for the “Thoughts for Food” series on the new family farm blog posts).
The series began back in April early in the crop year with the “incredible journey” of seed production. We moved on to discuss the challenge of planting 750 acres in 4 weeks now, compared to 20 acres in 8 weeks in the good old days. The equipment needed to achieve this reality and the sophistication in fertility necessary to achieve steadily increasing yields for over a half century were described and were quite impressive. The broad diversity of the specialty crops grown in rotation with potatoes in the Sands were highlighted, and we reviewed the combination of crops needed to produce the amazing bounty that puts Wisconsin near the top in national statistics and that are valued at over $6 billion while generating 35,000 jobs for the area. We described the innovative techniques and cutting-edge research needed to control pests and protect that investment from the ravages of a continual influx of pests without relying solely on pesticides. This requires a high level of sophistication in the form of integrated management systems that can predict, monitor, and employ multiple tactics to control pest populations.
A large proportion of natural lands in Wisconsin are privately owned and Central Sands growers recognize the value of the vital ecosystem services that such areas provide to their farms and the broader communities in which they live. These growers, who settled this area generations ago, have long been leaders in protecting and restoring these natural ecosystems for the benefit of everyone. In the “Thoughts for Food” series we illustrated remarkable achievements in ecological restoration and described the advantages that biodiversity brings to the region. The glacial origin of the Central Sands and the complexity of the interactions between the groundwater aquifer that sustains agriculture and the lakes and streams of the area and their importance to all the citizens of the Central Sands were discussed, and we described the ongoing programs implemented by growers to use these resources wisely; the evolution of cropping systems into diverse landscapes that need less water, the investments that growers have made in developing and employing cutting-edge technologies that use irrigation more effectively and help to maintain this precious resource are a couple of examples.
In the “Thoughts on Food” series, we also outlined the recent, rapid expansion of demand for more sustainably produced food in the US and noted that the Wisconsin Potato industry was in the forefront of this movement when it worked with the University of Wisconsin to pioneer the nation’s first fresh food sustainability program with Healthy Grown™ potatoes over a decade ago. These efforts are now actively expanding sustainability nationally to include other specialty crops, such as sweet corn and green beans, while leading the country in programs to divert excess production to feed the hungry. The Central Sands are critical our nation’s food security, and we are fortunate that the potato and vegetable growers of the area are such exemplary stewards. Wisconsin’s economic future in the area, and the sustainability of its resources are indeed in good hands!
In conclusion, we encourage you to re-visit this series and hope that you come to a greater appreciation of all the innovation, entrepreneurial skills, education and management needed to grow and process a significant portion of our national food supply and to continue to do this while respecting the environment of the Central Sands and sustaining its natural resources. To review these articles again, please search the archives of this site (The New Family Farm Blog) for the “Thoughts for Food” series, and enjoy any of these topics for years to come!