Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘behind the scenes’

Behind the Scenes: Potato Late Blight, There’s Blight on the Wisconsin Landscape!

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Late blight caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s and 1850s.

This disease and its related problems caused massive hunger, starvation and poverty, resulting in mass emigration from the region.  This disease is still a concern today.

The fungus which caused the Irish potato famine is still active today.  It was identified in Portage County just last week.  It can cause serious problems for potato, tomato, eggplants and other solanaceous crops today.  Phytophthora infestans (“infests”) is the cause of potato late blight.  It is a fast moving, community disease that growers, home gardeners and garden center managers must take seriously and properly manage to ensure a healthy, adequate food supply.

There are many concerns for Wisconsin vegetable growers every year whether farmer or home gardener.  Weather, growth problems, pests, water, market demand—but one pest problem, foliar or leaf blight, is especially challenging.  This can commonly attack tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and cucumbers.  These diseases cause perfectly healthy appearing green plants to break out in brown spots, turn yellow and die prematurely.  Many home gardeners run to their local garden center for a remedy.  But by the time leaves begin to yellow and the brown spots appear the disease may have progressed to a point where there is no stopping it.

On the farm, vegetable growers face the same threat from foliar blights every year.  Potato and vegetable growers in Wisconsin have worked closely with University of Wisconsin researchers for decades, to understand the science behind that makes these blights tick.  Through research, we have developed and implemented innovative disease management strategies to both avoid and combat plant disease problems.    (more…)

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Behind the Scenes: Working together to protect our water—The Little Plover River

Blog 29Harvesting the bounty of the Central Sands is already underway –peas and snap beans are on the way to consumer’s plates and sweet corn, potatoes and carrots are just around the corner.  As we watch and enjoy this remarkable productivity unfold, it is a good time to reflect on what makes it all possible. The Central Sands themselves and the underlying aquifer of groundwater laid down by glaciers 25,000 years ago and constantly recharged by rainfall, snowmelt / runoff are the corner stones in the foundation. Maintaining the delicate balance between the water resource and the needs of everyone who uses and depends on it is an ongoing challenge that we all must be a part of so future generations will enjoy the benefits of this unique area.
One particular area of focus is the Little Plover River watershed in northern Portage County. The Little Plover is a trout stream and an important drainage outlet that meanders its way westward from its headwaters east of the ancient Johnstown glacial moraine through wetlands, woods, farmland, and the homes, parks, businesses, and industries of the bustling Village of Plover to its confluence at the Wisconsin River south of Stevens Point. In recent years, the Little Plover has experienced highs and lows, which have ranged from flooding and ruined basements in some years to reduced flows in others. Although the little stream has persevered through it all and remains a great place to fish and enjoy the outdoors, everyone who lives in the watershed is concerned about its future and is working to secure it.   (more…)

Behind the Scenes: Central Sands farmers improving biodiversity (and sustainability) on our farms!

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Wisconsin potato and vegetable growers have long looked at sustainability as a three legged stool orf responsibility.  One leg is social responsibility, while another is economic.  The third leg, which gets a lot of attention, is environmental responsibility.  These thoughts and practices are second nature to us, in part, because of our relationship with our core researchers at UW-Madison, USDA, Ag Experiment Systems and our County Extension Agents.  Another reason for the prevalence of these practices on our farms is that is makes good business sense, serving us in achieving both our short and long term goals.  Biodiversity is just one component of our environmental responsibility.

Biodiversity tells us the number and variety of different native species found within an ecosystem. This is important to each of us.  A diverse environment of native species compared to similar environments that are dominated by a few non-native and often weedy less desirable species, is more stable ecologically and provides many essential services to communities. These ecosystem services are not always easy to identify.  They include many valuable natural benefits such as: water filtration, maintenance of soil structure and health, habitat for birds and pollinating insects, alternative food sources to preserve beneficial insect predators and habitats for rare and endangered species.  We have all of these things at work in our diverse ecosystem landscape.   (more…)

Behind the Scenes: Healthy Farms Restoring Natural Ecosystems

 

Blog 18Spring, beautiful springtime has arrived and we are moving quickly into summer.  Flowers are blooming and color has returned to our landscapes.  In farming regions, crop color has returned and also the diverse habitats of native landscapes.  In an effort to restore natural ecosystems, Wisconsin potato farmers along with the International Crane Foundation of Baraboo, WI have formed a collaboration to manage participating farms as whole ecosystems.

Each spring growers identify areas on their farms that have restoration potential.  Farmers document areas where the restoration of natural ecosystems, including grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands, can be achieved.  This typically occurs on field edges, unproductive areas, or in areas of existing remnants of native plant communities.  In Central Wisconsin, this work is often focused on re-establishing native grassland with perennial flowers and native grasses.  The dry sand prairies with short grasses were the original grass cover of the Central Sands region.

If done correctly, native restorations can conserve rare plants, improve habitat for declining grassland birds (such as meadowlark, bobolink, and grasshopper sparrows), and provide habitat for Wisconsin’s prairie-associated reptiles and amphibians. Perennial plant communities also benefit the soil, water, and the aesthetics of the local region.   (more…)

Behind the Scenes: The Slow Spring of 2014

 

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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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