In this current blog series we have been featuring graduate student research on potatoes in Wisconsin, and so far we have covered research in plant breeding, seed production and pest management. We are concluding this student series with 4 blogs on a topic that has emerged as one of the most critical issues facing agriculture today—water. Will there be a sufficient supply in the coming decades to maintain the productivity and security of our nation’s food supply while guaranteeing the long-term sustainability of the resource in future generations for all to enjoy?
In Wisconsin, the issue of water and its availability is particularly acute in the Central Sands region, which is one of the top five vegetable growing regions in the nation where potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, peas, carrots and cucumbers all rank near the top of U.S. production. The foundation of the region’s productivity lies in its geological history, which began during the glacial ice age that encompassed Wisconsin over 15,000 years ago. The Central Sands is a large and relatively flat glacial outwash plain that deposited abundant sandy soils—ideal for vegetable production—and is underlain by a deep groundwater aquifer that provides the water, vital for crop growth and productivity.
The region covers nearly 1,400 square miles and now supports 200,000 irrigated acres, but prior to the 1950s it was not farmed because there was no efficient way to utilize the abundant water supply and as such, much of the area remained undeveloped. In the mid-1950s, however, this largely unused, resource-poor area was transformed rapidly when modern irrigation technology became available and affordable due to aluminum supplies increasing after World War II. This raw material provided farmers the ability to build and deploy the center pivot irrigation systems that could, for the first time, deliver water to 160 acre crop fields in less than 24 hours. This quickly transformed the regional economic landscape into a thriving specialty crop production area which now supports a $6.4 billion food production industry and generates close to 40,000 jobs within the state of Wisconsin. (more…)
There is no doubt that our industry is as constantly changing as any other. With the continual rise of technology in our modern age, it is of utmost importance that the agriculture industry keeps up with the new requirements, electronics, and software that help us stay connected to our customers.
With the implementation of PTI (the Produce Traceability Initiative), staying connected to our product – no matter where it may be – is more possible now than ever before. Since the installation of the PTI scanners, printers, and software in many of the packing sheds across the state of Wisconsin, consumers can rest assured that they would be able to trace their potatoes back to the exact field they were grown in, know the day they were planted, harvested, and everything in between. (more…)
This 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…)
When the cost of produce goes up at our local grocery store, it directly impacts our weekly finances, and we all want to know who is to blame. Is it the farmer? The grocer? The weather? It’s easier with other products, for example gas for our cars. We can blame the oil cartels or some faraway pipeline problem. Either way, we usually end having to find a way to make it work. We start to look for the best value for our dollar—start biking to work, clipping coupons, evaluating our food choices. At the end of the day, we want to make sure we are not the victims of greed. We certainly don’t want to make someone rich while they are making us suffer! Do the big oil companies really need more profit?
With produce it’s a different story. Usually when the price of produce goes up, crop failure due to weather conditions is to blame. The retail prices increase when the supply decreases. And the ones who take the greatest risk are the farmers. So they must also reap the greatest rewards? Actually, no. By the time the retail cost paid by the consumer is broken down into what it costs for each link in the chain from the farmers field to the grocers shelf, the farmer actually gets a very small percentage of the profit. Statistics from a National Farmers Union report from 2013, using data from the USDA Economic Research Service, shows that on average, growers get back only 15.8 cents of every food dollar spent in the United States—only about 15% of each dollar spent! Looking at the data closer, more than 80 cents of every food dollar (80% of the cost) goes to the transportation, distribution, marketing, processing, wholesaling, and retailing of our food. (more…)
We all want the good guys to win, right? Well, it is even more important in agriculture where there are good guys with wonderful names like assassin bugs and pirate bugs, which regularly seek out, kill and eat the bad guys that are eating our crops. This is how nature keeps the balance between good and bad, and our potato and vegetable growers have learned nature’s tricks; they are masters at manipulating the system in their favor. This concept is called biological control, and it uses a broad range of beneficial species that occur naturally in diverse ecosystems to attack pest species that feed on crops, keeping them at levels which do not harm the crops.
This process of one organism regulating populations of another is found throughout nature from microscopic bacteria to alpha predators, like wolves. If we look with inquisitive eyes, we can see this in action in our very own back yards. In production agriculture, biological control can be seen at a much larger scale. It has become a vital component of the farmer’s toolbox that can be used in tandem with other approaches to keep pest populations below damaging levels. The whole system is called Integrated Pest Management; the goal is to use pesticides only as a last resort when pests increase to damaging levels. (more…)