Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘Antigo’

Behind the Scenes: The Slow Spring of 2014

 

Blog 15

It’s May, and in the Central Sands farmers are well on their way to wrapping up potato planting!  Farmers in northern counties like Langlade, the Antigo area, and north are just getting underway.  The wind is from the south, and regular spring rains are causing planting delays, testing patience while recharging the groundwater. The landscape is awake and thriving with native grasslands, trees budding and soon, with growing vegetables–the Central Sands region is one of the nation’s premier potato and vegetable production areas in the United States. Just the warm and earthy smell of the soil after rain is an elixir to the farmers; and the season is underway.

Farmers preparing for potato planting require several weeks of planning and organizing in advance of the big startup day. Potato seed took 3-4 years to produce in the right varieties and volumes in the northern reaches of the state.  Then growers carefully warm the seed to the current soil temperature and cut them into 2-3 ounce pieces.   These seed pieces are given a few days to heal (suberize), growing a protective skin to help prevent against disease and rot.  These 2 ½ ounce seeds contain the energy needed to give the sprouting plant the push to grow and emerge until it can begin to produce its own energy through photosynthesis.

Farmers once used horses to till and plant the land.  They had their own pace, their own speed. The simple machines of the past planted one row at a time at the unpredictable yet predetermined speed of horse. One farmer held the reins to keep the rows straight while another rode on the planter. By hand, potato seed pieces were fed into a device that dropped them into furrows opened by the planter and then closed and covered them with a hill where the new plant would grow and develop. This was a two-horsepower, two-farmer operation that was tediously slow but still a huge improvement on its predecessor that required a spade and bucket. In those early days, it might take a family two months of backbreaking work to plant just 20 acres.   (more…)

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Behind the Scenes: Getting Potatoes to your Plate Takes Time!

Seed potato plantsThis is a wonderful time of year when winter grudgingly gives way to spring and our next growing season. From my third story office windows in Antigo I have the opportunity to see trucks hauling seed potatoes from our seed farms in northern Wisconsin to our commercial farms in the Central Sands and beyond. This flurry of activity lasts for several weeks as farms take in, cut, treat, suberize and warm the seed in preparation for planting.   Like many things in Wisconsin, potatoes can be very unique. We have a multitude of types and varieties to choose from. These types and varieties are very specific in their purpose. Certain types are better for certain uses. There are many russet varieties, some have cooking characteristics for home and restaurant use, we call fresh or table potatoes. While other russets, are best suited for frying (process / frozen). (more…)

Making the Perfect Potato: The Incredible Journey

Blog 12 - Baked
When you are enjoying a delicious baked potato, take a minute to reflect on where it came from. There is a pretty good chance it was grown in Wisconsin, which ranks 3rd in US potato production.  However, the journey it took to become good enough to get to your plate is a fascinating one. (more…)

Thoughts for Food: The Security of Our Nation’s Food Supply

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. Blog 11 - Thoughts for Food

  • 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 (more…)

Soil – More than Just Dirt

When most people think about agriculture, they immediately think of the crops or food produced – corn, wheat, potatoes and cranberries.  However, at the heart of food production is one key ingredient.  It is the basic component that all of these crops need to grow – the soil!

Antigo Silt Loam

Wisconsin’s State Soil!

Here are the basics. Soil is composed of minerals, air, organic material and water.  The type of soil is determined by its physical structure, nutrients, trace elements, PH and organic matter.  Based on these combined factors, there are over 700 soil types in Wisconsin!  These factors also determine its growing ability.  So, when it comes to agriculture, farmers must understand the type of soil they are working with in order to decide which crops to grow.

The physical structure of the soil is determined by the proportion of sand, silt and clay in the soil.  Sand particles are the largest and clay particles are the smallest.  The importance of a soil’s physical structure was evident during this summer’s drought.  The soil’s physical structure determined how well it was able to hold onto the available water.   This is a good example of where the science of irrigation comes into play, and why farmers pay such close attention to it to make sure their crops get just the amount of water they need.

So, here’s how different soil types compare.  Sandy soil has large pore space.  In a wet year, sandy soils drain better, but in a dry year, they struggle to retain water.  It also has fewer available nutrients.  At the other end of the spectrum are clay soils. Clay is made of smaller particles making it denser (smaller pore spaces). Clay will retain more water, but in a spring with lots of rainfall its poor drainage can make it difficult to farm. In the middle are loamy soils. These have almost equal portions of sand, silt and clay.  If you had a garden, this is the type of soil you would want because it has the best balance of water retention and drainage.

To reflect the value of this soil type, the official state soil is Antigo Silt Loam.  This soil is found in north-central Wisconsin.  It is ideal for farming because of its composition of a silty top layer that holds water with a sandy layer underneath for proper drainage.  But, soils vary across Wisconsin, and the type of soil in each region of the state determines the crops and other plants that grow on the landscape.

For example, potatoes and cranberries need fertile, well-drained soils like sands, sandy loams or silt loams located in central Wisconsin.  But, in comparison, corn and alfalfa should be grown in soils that are rich in nutrients and able to lock in moisture.  Wisconsin is home to a variety of crops, and it is the diversity of our soil types across the state that makes this possible.

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