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…)
Image: 3 kinds of genetic engineering defined
By: KJHvM http://www.biofortified.org
The heated battle over using genetic technology in our food systems has continued for over a decade and shows little sign of cooling down. From the early days of herbicide tolerance in corn and soybeans to the fast growing salmon of today, the battle lines are firmly drawn and rarely seem to waiver. On the one hand, concerned consumers in the US, Europe and elsewhere, accuse GM foods of being unnatural and the companies that develop them as business seeking to control the world’s seeds. On the other hand, farmers worldwide have embraced GM foods as an exciting new technology that provides higher yields and allows them to use fewer and safer pesticides to increase the sustainability of their farms.
Well, as we all dig our heels deeper in this battle, a new wave of technological innovations that are set to change the face of the world’s food production systems are quickly ramping-up. The GMOs or transgenics we are familiar with (but that most of us never quite understood at a deep level) involved introducing a genetic trait from one organism into another unrelated one; like it or not, they may be becoming old hat. As science has begun to unravel the intricacies of the genetic code and understand how life works at the molecular level, it may no longer be necessary to put something new into a plant to get a desired end result. The ability to simply tweak what nature already provides in the plant without changing its genetic makeup or adding new traits is a reality. This is the new world of world of cisgenics; simply turning a gene on or off within the plant’s genome or adding a gene from a different cultivar of the same species to elicit traits in that have hitherto been unattainable. In some ways this could be described as the traditional breeding of Mendel on hyper-drive. (more…)
Our population is getting old, and the baby boomers are getting ready to retire. The same is happening with our farmers; what happens when the folks who grow our food decide to retire and not farm anymore? Will the kids take over? Will the land be sold off? We need that land for agriculture, so who gets it and for what purpose is a real concern if maintaining a safe and plentiful food supply, providing green space and rural landscapes and fostering rural communities and economies is important!
The USDA Agricultural Census service has been tracking the “graying” population of farmers, and the fastest growing group is over 65. This trend has been occurring for some time, as fewer and fewer young people have been returning to the farm, and between 2002 and 2007 alone, the number of farmers over 65 grew by nearly 22 percent. The USDA analysis states that, “for every one farmer and rancher under the age of 25, there are five who are 75 or older!”
The key to maintaining these lands in agricultural production is farm succession planning and programs that help farmers develop these plans that enable a smooth transition to a younger generation of farm managers. Here in Wisconsin, our farmers are bucking the national trend as usual, and we can proudly say that we are in the top 5 US states with the youngest age of head farm operators. Why is this? Is it quality of life, or a state philosophy that engenders good planning? Either way, it is a positive sign for our rural communities, the long-term beauty of agricultural landscapes and the plentiful food supply that we rely on.
The 2012 USDA census of agriculture tells us that Wisconsin lost 4.1% of its farmland from 2007 to 2012. While this may not sound alarming, it was the 4th largest loss among the US states and that should raise warning flags. In Wisconsin, we will not feel the impact in major commodities like corn, soybeans and wheat; the US is blessed with fertile production areas from coast to coast that guarantee a safe and affordable food supply, and we are often able to export more than we consume. However, if we look at other key components of our diet, like vegetables, the loss of production capability in Wisconsin could have devastating impacts. Wisconsin is one of the nation’s premier production centers for potatoes and processing vegetables. Maintaining our ability to produce these crops is important for everyone.
Take a spin around the produce section of your favorite grocery store and you see a veritable cornucopia of goodness. But when you look at where it was grown—Mexico, Central America, California, South America and even Europe—you probably are resigned to the fact that if you want to eat fresh vegetables in the winter, then you have to eat imports. But when you look around the grocery store in mid-summer, and you still see that most of our vegetables are still coming from faraway regions, well then, maybe something needs to be done! If Wisconsin farmers can continue to grow vegetable crops effectively, it will allow us to maintain a balance between a sustainable supply of produce from our own area, rather than complete reliance on imported and out of state food. (more…)