Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘food production’

Farm Perspectives: Handling your Food with Care

Potato FieldAs summer wears on and the potatoes continue to develop below the soil, the farmers in the central sands area of Wisconsin are already starting to think about when they will be able to dig their potatoes. With another harvesting season fast approaching, a topic that should always be at the forefront of the minds of growers and packers alike is safe product handling. (more…)

Farm Perspectives: Summer “Ware’housekeeping”

Generally summer is the time of the year when farmers spend a majority of their time out in the fields, but it is also the time when we have the opportunity to clean, repair and upgrade our storage facilities at Nuto Farm Supply before the potato harvest season begins.  (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…)

Wisconsin’s Vegetable Industry Is a Vital Part of State and National Food Production

Wisconsin’s temperate climate, proximity to major urban markets, and abundant rainfall put the Wisconsin vegetable industry in the top 5 of most productive agricultural centers in the nation.  Wisconsin has emerged as the 2nd ranked state in the US for growing and processing potatoes and vegetables. Key processing crops include potatoes (3rd nationally), sweet corn (3rd), green beans (1st), peas (3rd), carrots (1st), pickling cucumbers (4th), red beets (1st), lima beans (1st), and cabbage (2nd).  Production of these processed vegetables and potatoes in Wisconsin is concentrated in the Central Sands region, an ancient glacial lake bed encompassing parts of seven counties; this region is ideally suited for growing vegetables because it has abundant sandy soils and a groundwater aquifer that can be used for irrigation and is fully recharged annually via natural precipitation.

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The concentration of food production and processing industries include major companies such as Del Monte Foods, Seneca Foods, Lakeside Foods, General Mills, Bonduelle (Canada), McCain Foods, Frito Lay, and others; they all contribute significantly to the statewide economy in multiple ways. In a direct sense, each sector creates economic activity and jobs within its own industry. However, both crop production and processing also benefit nearly every other Wisconsin industry. For example, growers and processors purchase equipment, fuel, electricity, fertilizer, and farm supplies from local suppliers, pay farm and plant workers, invest earnings, and pay taxes.  In turn, employees use their earnings to raise children, pay for housing, groceries, and other personal expenses. In this way, one dollar received by a farmer or processor creates more than one dollar in value as it is spent over and over within the local economy. Paul Mitchell (UW, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 2010) estimated the total value of the specialty crop (this includes potatoes and vegetables as well as cranberries and ginseng) production and processing industries to be $6.4 billion and a remarkable 34,700 jobs.

In addition to their contribution to the state’s economy and the nation’s food supply, the processing industry is now teaming up with the Wisconsin potato growers to ensure that the farming practices used in the region are sustainable, and protect both the ecosystems and natural resources they depend on. Nick George of the Midwest Food Processors Association reports that his industry is contributing $1.3 million to a new USDA grant headed by Paul Mitchell to assess and build the sustainability of sweet corn and green bean production nationwide. “The future of our industry ultimately depends on how well we protect the resources we depend on, that’s what we are committed to.”

For more information on the economic impact of specialty crops in Wisconsin:

Wisconsin Potato Growers Lead the Nation in Developing Sustainable Food Production Systems


In the mid-1990s, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recognized the importance of preserving both Wisconsin’s natural resources and food production systems for future generations by entering into a precedent-setting alliance designed to promote sustainable farming methods. The growers worked jointly with University of Wisconsin scientists to adopt ecologically-based approaches to fresh potato production that would reduce pesticide risk, promote biodiversity and enhance natural resources. The result—the “Healthy Grown” label— was launched in 2002 and endorsed by the WWF. It was the nation’s first sustainable label for fresh produce and has gained widespread recognition from national and local environmental organizations.

The Healthy Grown program has enrolled 10-15% of Wisconsin’s fresh potato crop annually since its launch; growers must meet tough standards in all aspects of production to earn certification. The results have been impressive with growers achieving a 52% increase in adoption of sustainable farming practices and a 30% reduction in pesticide risk over the first 10 years.

Russell Wysocki, a grower in Bancroft, Wisconsin and owner of RPE, Inc., believes his farm and the Healthy Grown program have the same goal of actively conserving the landscape.  Russell says “We are stewards of the land; this is an opportunity to do good things for the land and good things for the industry.”  These accomplishments were recognized nationally in 2003 with the USDA’s prestigious Secretaries Honors Award for Maintaining and Enhancing the Nations Natural Resources and the Environment.

Rather than resting on its laurels, in 2004 the WPVGA, in partnership with the International Crane Foundation, embarked on an ambitious new project to protect and restore remnants of natural communities in the agricultural landscape to improve habitat quality for natural species and enhance biodiversity.

Most recently, Wisconsin’s potato and vegetable growers are once again demonstrating their pioneering spirit by expanding the scope of Healthy Grown beyond potatoes to encompass Whole Farm Sustainability which represents the core principles on which emerging sustainability initiatives across the US will be built.

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