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.
Growers and industry representatives attend these events not only to learn but also because it provides the opportunity to discuss emerging issues and interact with specialists to address complex challenges. Growers are renowned for their innovation; in 2013, a remarkable 64% conducted research on their farms in collaboration with University of Wisconsin or industry specialists. The on-farm research that originates from this interaction provides a vital bridge from the laboratory and research station to practical implementation on the farm, and the benefits that this brings to society. The educational meetings are the forum for this synergy.
In Stevens Point, the industry, growers and researchers from UW determine the range of topics for each year and gather regional or national experts to advance discussion of these issues. This conference is recognized nationally for the intensity and quality of its program, and its ability to give the growers face to face contact with the experts. Growers and industry professionals alike leave the conference energized and ready for the upcoming growing season. Soon it will be time to buy that seed and start planting, so let’s get educated!