Knowing Your Roots

Archive for the ‘Reduce Hunger’ Category

The Battle against Late Blight, From the Irish Potato Famine to the New Millennium

Blog 15

While hard to believe, the Late Blight pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s and 1850s and caused the starvation deaths and forced migration of hundreds of thousands across Europe, is still a major concern in food production worldwide. The fungus-like organism, Phytophthora  infestans, is aggressive and can cause disease that can rapidly destroy whole fields of potatoes  and tomatoes. This centuries old threat is still with us and causes major concerns for potato growers in Wisconsin each year!

The pathogen can be spread quickly over whole areas by wind movement of its spores from infected source plants. These are either brought into the state as already infected tomato transplants or seed potatoes or can develop locally from un-harvested tubers or crop waste that survive freezing.  Because it can spread so rapidly under cool moist conditions, Late blight is considered a ‘community disease’ that can affect both commercial growers and home gardeners alike. Crop fields must therefore be monitored   early to detect symptoms and potential disease sources.  Growers ensure that seed is disease-free to prevent the introduction of the pathogen into the fields. They control potato volunteers and nightshade weeds that may be infected in and around production fields. And, by WI state law, growers, homeowners and garden centers are required to destroy all disease sources by May 20th before the start of the growing season.     (more…)

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Fresh and Local: GMOs—The times they are a-changing!

Blog 49

Image: 3 kinds of genetic engineering defined
By: KJHvM   http://www.biofortified.org

 

The heated battle over using genetic technology in our food systems has continued for over a decade and shows little sign of cooling down. From the early days of herbicide tolerance in corn and soybeans to the fast growing salmon of today, the battle lines are firmly drawn and rarely seem to waiver. On the one hand, concerned consumers in the US, Europe and elsewhere, accuse GM foods of being unnatural and the companies that develop them as business seeking to control the world’s seeds. On the other hand, farmers worldwide have embraced GM foods as an exciting new technology that provides higher yields and allows them to use fewer and safer pesticides to increase the sustainability of their farms.

Well, as we all dig our heels deeper in this battle, a new wave of technological innovations that are set to change the face of the world’s food production systems are quickly ramping-up. The GMOs or transgenics we are familiar with (but that most of us never quite understood at a deep level) involved introducing a genetic trait from one organism into another unrelated one; like it or not, they may be becoming old hat. As science has begun to unravel the intricacies of the genetic code and understand how life works at the molecular level, it may no longer be necessary to put something new into a plant to get a desired end result. The ability to simply tweak what nature already provides in the plant without changing its genetic makeup or adding new traits is a reality. This is the new world of world of cisgenics; simply turning a gene on or off within the plant’s genome or adding a gene from a different cultivar of the same species to elicit traits in that have hitherto been unattainable. In some ways this could be described as the traditional breeding of Mendel on hyper-drive.   (more…)

Thoughts for Food: The Season is Winding Down

Blog 40

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).   (more…)

Thoughts for Food: Are we wasting the bounty we produce?

Blog 36

The harvest season is now in full swing in Wisconsin’s Central Sands. Potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, carrots, cucumbers and beets are rolling up the harvester chains and into trucks for the short journey to Wisconsin’s processing and distribution centers and then onward to consumers across the US and beyond.  Another record season seems within reach in 2013 thanks to the ingenuity and hard work of the farmers—and with some help from generous early season rains!  With some Central Sands potato growers surpassing 30 tons per acre (that’s more than 3,000 ten pound bags per acre), increased productivity has held overall production close to that achieved a decade ago when 28% more acres of potatoes were grown. (more…)

Farm Perspectives: Reaping What We Sow

Potato plants in fieldThe phrase “Reap what you sow” is one of those phrases that often times congers up negative connotations. While it is true that there is a part of this verse from the Book of Galatians that warns that putting little effort or effort with mal intentions into something will lead to negative consequences, there is a positive side to the phrase as well. If you put good and honorable work into something, good things will come out of that effort. Such is the way of farming in the truest of senses. (more…)

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