Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘food security’

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

Blog 26

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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The delights and challenges of growing food in Wisconsin

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It’s mid-June already! Summer is officially here and with temperatures in the 80s, it’s hard to think back even a few months and remember that in mid-March we were all wondering if life in the land of living plants was ever going to start again!  Imagine if you can, the last 3 weeks of March when we averaged 43 degrees F for a high and a frigid 24 for a low—with snow everywhere to boot. Now, fast forward to June 1st, the last 3 weeks have blessed us with 74 and 51 for the highs and lows! This is surely why we love living in Wisconsin, it’s an adventure!

Our farmers love this climate and thrive on battling the odds and defeating what Mother Nature throws at them. When the remnants of March blew in the Central Sands, the tractors were ready, the potato growers were primed with new knowledge and ideas from their winter meetings, and the sheds were full of healthy seed potatoes ready to be lovingly inserted into that rich soil for another crop year. But a peek outside revealed their fields as a bleak, snow-covered artic landscape with no end in sight. They waited, as farmers do so well, through most of April this year, and their patience was rewarded with a sunny and warm May that brought blossoms to the wind breaks protecting their fields and allowed them to show the world just how good they are at getting close to 50,000 acres of potatoes planted in a few short weeks!   (more…)

Local foods: What does this mean to you?

 

Blog 53

Local foods, what does that actually mean?  There are many definitions, but generally people define it based on their personal beliefs and some rough, geographical information.  Some think local foods can only come from within 100 miles of one’s home.  Many others define local foods as those grown and sold within their own states, regions or anywhere within the United States.  The USDA defines local as within 400 miles; by this definition, “locavores” would buy and consume food only grown within our state.  In general, most of us define local as anything grown within our great state of Wisconsin or at least within the boundaries of the United States.  But underlying that is the belief that it’s just healthy food that adds value to our local economy—this is a very reasonable definition.  Whatever your definition, the actual details always come back to:  what does it matter to me and my family? Is this sustainable for my long-term food security, my health, the safety of food and for the economic sustainability of my community? So, now let’s look at the term “local” as a realistic vision for the long-term health and benefits to our society.

Agricultural specialization has resulted in many ecological, economic and societal advancements over time.  The “supply more for less inputs” is very successful within these specialized industries, and this has resulted in a sustainable, large-scale agricultural system.  With today’s industrialization, agricultural is a multi-faceted industry with wide ranging distribution systems and complex interactions among the supply chain.  Many times, you may be buying a locally produced product, but you would not be aware of it simply because it is not stated clearly on the packaging.  But if you knew it was local, would you buy it over another non-local product?  Would you pay more?  Do you have any idea of the community value local food production brings to rural America?  Do you know that these locally produced agricultural products have vast impacts and great influence on our local economies?

For a specific example, let’s look at the value that the Central Wisconsin vegetable system has brought to many local communities in our state.  A seven county region in Central Wisconsin known as the Central Sands region  is one of the most abundant, healthy, and productive regions for vegetables in the nation.  You may know the value this region brings to ensuring a safe and effective food supply for all of us, but do you know the economic value this brings to each county and their rural communities?  These counties (Portage, Waushara, Adams, Marquette, Wood, Green Lake and Waupaca) have thriving rural economies due to the impacts of agriculture in the region.

Let’s look at each county individually to see specifics on how many jobs, tax revenue, sales and/or percentages of economic value are involved in agricultural in the regions*.

  • Portage
    o   Agriculture provides over 5500 jobs in the county – 13% of total county workforce.
    o   Over $32 million are paid in taxes due to agricultural activity.
    o   Vegetable production alone provides over $103 million dollars of sales.
  • Waushara
    o   Agriculture accounts for 19% of jobs in the county.
    o   Agriculture and its related businesses provide over $230 million dollars into the regions (more than 22% of total counties business sales).
  • Adams
    o   Provide $7 million in taxes.
    o   Direct marketing sales add $67,000 to economy.
    o   Farmers account for 28% of the county’s land.
  • Marquette
    o   Agriculture provides over 1900 jobs to the region.
    o   Processing companies account for $65.9 million of income in the county.
  • Wood
    o   Pays almost $22 million in taxes.
    o   Business to business activity in the county generates over $54 million in sales.
  • Green Lake
    o   Agriculture provides 15% of the county’s jobs.
    o   Agriculture in the county accounts for $88 million (or 16%) of county incomes.
  • Waupaca
    o   Vegetable production accounts for over $9 million in sales.
    o   Around 14% of county income comes from agriculture.

So, no matter how you define local, the important thing to remember is that local Wisconsin agriculture produces high-quality products while providing a great value to rural communities.  Your local buying decisions help support those growers and create economic benefits to these areas.  However you define local, it must be comforting to know that local farmers are working hard to provide you healthy, safe food, while also providing valuable resources, taxes  and jobs to our local communities.

 

*Data source:  “The Economic Impacts of Agriculture in Wisconsin Counties” by Steven Deller, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin–Madison/Extension
And David Williams, Agricultural and Natural Resources Program Area, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Cooperative Extension.  Full report found at:  http://www.uwex.edu/ces/ag/wisag/documents/EconomicImpactsPaper_3-24-11-5final.pdf 
General information and county specific details are found at: http://www.uwex.edu/ces/ag/wisag/

Stepping Up to the Plate: Wisconsin Farmers Provide the Resources to Tackle Water Issues in Central Wisconsin

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Few now question that our planet’s resources are being challenged by our relentless population growth, and yet most of us are unable to do anything meaningful to address these far reaching issues. Water is among the most precious of these resources, and farmers in all parts of the world are struggling to find ways to use water more wisely while preserving its availability for future generations. Nowhere is this more evident than in Wisconsin’s Central Sands—one of the most productive potato and vegetable growing areas in the US, which depends on irrigation to produce the food that is needed to provide food security for the nation. The water needed for irrigation is drawn from an extensive aquifer (underlying several counties) that was formed in glacial times and has been replenished annually by rainfall and snow melt for over a half century. Evidence in recent years, however, suggests that water levels in parts of the aquifer may be declining and that this is adversely impacting some of the surface water lakes and streams connected to the groundwater. The reasons for this are complex and may be related to a combination of factors including shifting rainfall patterns, extending growing seasons, the need to irrigate more to meet increasing crop demand, and expanding rural communities and industries.

The potato and vegetable growers in the Central Sands are not content to debate causes, and they have united to proactively seek solutions. In 2011, the growers joined forces with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and researchers from several University of Wisconsin departments to launch a major new Conservation Innovation Grant to examine ways to use water more efficiently. This 3-year landmark study “Preserving water resources in Central Wisconsin” was awarded $700,000 in competitive federal funding AND the award required matching funds from farmers to become a reality. This is where the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and the Midwest Food Processors Association stepped to the plate and hit a bases loaded home run by pledging a whopping $634,000 to secure the funds. This is money raised annually from grower-members and demonstrates the commitment these growers have to the future. The grant is now entering its 3rd year and is already justifying every penny of investment.   (more…)

Behind the Scenes: Central Sands Crop Diversity

BeautyFinalLR

Wisconsin’s Central Sands provides a great diversity of food crops. It is one of our country’s most important vegetable production areas, and also one of our most diverse. Our farmers do grow USDA program crops like field corn and soybeans, but the Central Sands acreage is overwhelmed by a broad mixture of vegetables and specialty crops. We grow potatoes of all kinds—russets for baking and fries, reds and yellows for salads and many other purposes (yes baking too), round whites for chips, even sweet potatoes are grown in the Central Sands. Sweet corn, green beans, peas, carrots, peppers, cucumbers and beets dot the landscape. Most of our vegetable crops are bound for processing plants (canned and frozen) within Wisconsin then distributed across the US and to other countries around the globe. Fresh vegetables are also available to you at local farmer markets and grocery stores. We are working on expanding this area of production as the market calls for them. This crop diversity provides consumers everything from crunchy pickles and spicy relish, cranberry sauces and juices to fresh table potatoes for every meal event, locally grown in Central Wisconsin. Did you know that Wisconsin is also the nation’s largest supplier of cranberries?   (more…)

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