Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘Fresh and Local’

Fresh and Local – Wisconsin Potato Growers: Innovators in Sustainability

Blog 51

Central Wisconsin is the prime growing region for Wisconsin potatoes and vegetables; it has it all–pristine landscapes, great outdoor activities, and valuable farmland.  Thankfully, due to the innovative work of the industry, these lands are striving to be sustainable for the long-term.

In 2013, the Wisconsin potato industry developed a proactive approach to document the sustainability of how the growers manage their farms.  Working through the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA), in partnership with the National Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture (NISA), the industry assessed the sustainability of the practices currently used on potato farms throughout the state.  The assessment used an entry-level NISA approach to generate maximum grower engagement in the sustainability arena.  Seventy-one growers returned assessments representing 56,785 acres of potatoes (90% of the total Wisconsin acreage).  Growers from the fresh (20,400 acres), chip (17,900 acres), frozen (10,400 acres), and seed markets (7,400 acres) participated in the assessment to provide an accurate representation of the industry as a whole.  Since the NISA survey process includes a detailed documentation of sustainable practices used by growers across the whole farm enterprise in addition to the potato crop, this assessment represented over 200,000 total farmland acres.

Of the assessed Wisconsin’s potato farms, 100% are family owned with an average of over 53 years farming.  On average, 2 to 3 generations of family members are actively working and involved in the farming operations, which is an encouraging sign for the continuing sustainability of Wisconsin’s vegetable production industry.   (more…)

Behind the Scenes: Getting Potatoes to your Plate Takes Time!

Seed potato plantsThis 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…)

Fresh and Local: GMOs—The times they are a-changing!

Blog 49

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…)

Fresh and Local – Farm succession: Where have all the children gone? In Wisconsin, back to the farm!

Blog 48

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.

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Fresh and Local – Why is Wisconsin-grown food important to us all?

Blog 47

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…)

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