As the mercury dips into the negative once again, the snow whistles and forms those ever creeping drifts and the kids are out of school yet again, it’s hard to imagine that anything positive could come from it all. If you are a Wisconsin potato grower, however, you are looking out the window now and rubbing those hands together in anticipation of good things to come!
Almost all the potatoes in the US are grown in the northern states—think of Idaho, Washington, Wisconsin, Colorado and Maine and you have the top potato states in the country. There is a simple reason for this—we all have miserable winters! Those winters may be hard on us mortals, but they are even harder on the enemies that are lined up to attack the humble potato. (more…)
In Central Wisconsin, the heart of potato country, when snow covers the ground and below zero temperatures are the norm, many of us assume that the growers are enjoying vacations in the sun— nothing could be further from the truth! Wisconsin’s potato farms are multigenerational, and if they expect to stay in business, prosper in today’s competitive marketplace and build profitable operations for their children and grandchildren, then they must stay abreast of emerging issues and technologies. To do this 94% of Wisconsin’s growers attend a mix of local, statewide, national and in some cases, international educational conferences. From November through March, potato and vegetable growers have their pick of a smorgasbord of educational opportunities to hone their skills. As soon as potatoes are in storage, the Midwest Processing Crop Conference kicks off in December and is followed by the National Potato Expo and the Wisconsin Crop Management Conference in January and ends with Wisconsin’s own, statewide potato conference in February. When you throw in the various other local, regional and national crop or farm management meetings and a trip to the World Potato Congress every few years (Argentina and Chile in 2015!), there is little free time to relax during the winter months.
Interestingly enough, one of the largest potato educational meetings and industry shows in the nation resides right here in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. In early February each year, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association in collaboration with UW Extension bring together an unrivaled slate of expertize in potato production and management from Wisconsin and across the country; they educate and interact with growers over three days and cover all aspects of potato and vegetable production systems—from what seed to select, to how to grow a crop sustainably and protect the environment, to how to store and market it successfully. Hot topics in 2014 range from strategies to use water more efficiently to how the Affordable Health Care Act may affect our local farms. (more…)
Everyone involved in bringing your food from where it is grown to your dinner table is fully committed to making sure that it is safe and secure. This commitment involves many people— from those who grow, process and package the food to those who distribute and market it to consumers. We are indeed fortunate that in the United States we have put in place an advanced system of safeguards at all levels of the food chain to guarantee a safe food supply that keeps our families secure. This process runs so smoothly that it is invisible to most and taken for granted by us all, but don’t be fooled, it involves a major effort from everyone involved in bringing food to your table. We have all heard of the occasional failures in the system because they are so rare that they make the headlines—the bacteria inadvertently contaminating a food product and the resulting recalls and news stories are ample demonstration that the system is working well and that safeguards are in place! Imagine living in a world where such events were commonplace enough that we took them for granted and tolerated the sickness (and even occasional death) that still plague many countries that do not value safe and secure food.
It is worthwhile to look closely at the many layers of safeguards that are involved in the US food security system to appreciate what it takes to ensure that food is safe. The effort starts in the field and doesn’t stop until the product is in the grocery store. All levels of the supply chain that grow food, process it into the myriad of products we consume, and move it to retailers and consumers, have put in place their own set of unique practices that work independently and yet are linked to meet the overall goal of safe food. (more…)