Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘efficiency’

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…)

Farm Perspectives: Reason for Every Season

potatoesAgriculture has a certain seasonality to it that is comforting.  It gives us something to look forward to, an expectation of timing that you can rely upon.  There is a rhythm that that is reassuring and usually calming.

We are currently getting to the end of the growing season for potatoes. While out road scouting last weekend you can faintly see the beginning of the end of many of the living potato plants.  You can see the slight discoloration, the fading of green into subtle yellows and browns.  The plants start to droop and show signs of wilting.  This is what some of the old-timers mean when they say the potatoes are starting to “come home”. (more…)

Farm Perspectives: Pest Scout helps Reduce Use of Crop Protectants

At Alsum Farms & Produce, our summer weather is finally here and the potatoes are growing fast and are a beautiful thing to see. The reds, whites, and goldens are getting close to row closure and they have started to “hook,” which means they are forming a tuber under the hill. We are seeing marble-sized tubers already and they will be growing fast. Moisture management is critical at this time and we were blessed with a nice rain again this week. The cold wet spring was a problem for the seed pieces, but moisture at this time is a positive as long as we don’t get several inches at one time. We are placing tensiometers in our fields this week to help with monitoring soil moisture. This is one of many ways that we try to make sure we are using best practices to conserve and properly manage our water usage.

Our pest scout position is another valuable tool in our IPM and best practices for potato growing. (more…)

Thoughts for Food: Let the Season Begin!

Blog 15

It’s April, and in the Central Sands farmers are beginning to stir and get ready for action in the fields!  The wind is from the south, and gentle spring rains are recharging the groundwater. The landscape is about to be awoken and soon to be thriving with growing vegetables–the Central Sands region is one of the nation’s premier potato and vegetable production areas. Just the warm and earthy smell of the soil after rain is an elixir to the farmers; they are ready for the season to begin! (more…)

More Food with Less Water

Blog 7

A new report released by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (Feb 12,2013) stated that power generation and municipal uses account for 85% of total state water use compared with 4% by agriculture. Even in Portage, Adams and Waushara (among the highest use counties), municipal withdraws were higher (42%) than agricultural irrigation (33%). These counties “comprise much of the central sands area of the state known as a globally significant vegetable production region” according to the DNR report; production and processing of specialty crops, which are concentrated in the region, contribute $6.4 billion in economic return to the state and generate almost 35,000 jobs.

In recent years, concern over water use and availability in the region has sparked debate over the impact of climate, irrigation, and municipalities on groundwater resources.  While climate is an impact that local growers have no control over, they do have the ability to impact the efficiency of irrigation, especially during the peak use in July and August when crops require the most water. Mike Copas, field manager from Russet Potato Exchange, explains the importance of his irrigation strategy as “a complete approach to conserving the resource by supplying only what the crop needs. We understand the importance of managing our water resources wisely and are utilizing the most advanced technologies to be the most efficient in our usage for our potato and vegetable rotations”.

The majority of growers use center pivot overhead irrigation systems, which are monitored continuously to ensure uniform water distribution, precisely control the amount of water applied, and operated during off peak hours whenever possible to conserve energy demand on the system. To increase the efficiency of these systems, growers are adopting a range of cutting edge technologies including variable-rate precision irrigation, deficit irrigation and drip irrigation. Sophisticated irrigation scheduling programs have been developed and used to precisely match water applied to crop need and thus eliminate waste. However, growers are now pushing the envelope further by mapping the varying soil types and their ability to retain water across fields; water is applied at variable rates according to crop need in a new technology termed,  “variable-rate, precision irrigation,” which has been shown to not only save water but increase crop quality.

Additional technologies are also being tested in research funded by the WPVGA that include crop varieties and landscapes that require less water, withholding water during non-critical growth stages (deficit irrigation), and drip irrigation. Together, these innovative approaches make a difference. As Mike Copas concludes, “water management is a complex task, and we use all our tools to manage it as effectively as possible.  As a grower and land manager, I want people to know that we are working hard to maintain our water resources. They are an integral part of our farming operation, and to maintain it for the long-term, we will utilize our water correctly”.

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