Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘Sustainability’

Wisconsin Healthy Grown® – Leading the way for high-bar sustainability standards

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Striving for sustainability, particularly in the marketplace, is something most people desire but what exactly does it mean?

Sustainability is a process of producing something that balances the environmental, societal and economic needs for the good of everyone.

Here at New Family Farm, we understand the need to preserve the environmental integrity of the grower’s fields, the ecological services they provide and the landscapes of which they are a part.

We recognize the societal role that our farms play in fostering local communities by providing employment and opportunities for those who live there.

We know farmers need to be economically solvent, to remain in business and continue to grow the food we all depend on. Balancing all of these factors is what sustainability really means!   (more…)

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Investing in the Future: Potato Research in Wisconsin Pays Big Dividends

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For any progressive business, it is common knowledge that investment in research and development will increase its efficiency or broaden its portfolio. This principal applies to agriculture as well and nowhere is this better exemplified than by Wisconsin’s potato growers. These hardworking growers are known across the United States for their innovations in production, resource conservation and sustainability. These achievements did not occur by happenstance; they required a vision and an investment from the industry to achieve that vision. Recognizing this, every Wisconsin potato grower voluntarily pays 6 cents to their association for every 100 pounds of potatoes produced annually. This is no paltry sum, as Wisconsin is the 3rd largest potato-producing state in the US with close to 28 million 100 pound sacks grown during 2013!

A large portion of this money is invested back into the University of Wisconsin to provide scientists from multiple disciplines the dollars needed to fund research in all areas impacting potatoes. Over 25 projects are funded annually – ranging from short-term, innovative problem solving to long-term, basic science- for a total of over $350,000 each year. The initial association investment of $10-20,000 in funds to individual projects pays big dividends to the growers, the industry and the state, as UW researchers are able to use this funding to leverage additional federal funding sources back to Wisconsin by over 100 fold! In 2014 this translated into over $30 million return on a $350,000 investment!

The dedication and excellence of faculty, academic staff and graduate students across multiple academic disciplines generates remarkable results. To give readers a glimpse into some of the fascinating individual stories being generated in labs and field stations across Wisconsin, the New Family Farm postings over the next several months will feature ongoing research being conducted by graduate students. These will address important topic areas that include Potato Breeding, Seed Production, Growing Potatoes, Protecting Natural Resources and Managing Pests. Each topic will be introduced by faculty experts in the field and followed by specific graduate student research projects. We hope you enjoy these glimpses into the stories that are evolving in one of the nation’s premier potato research programs.

Behind the Scenes: Central Sands farmers improving biodiversity (and sustainability) on our farms!

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Wisconsin potato and vegetable growers have long looked at sustainability as a three legged stool orf responsibility.  One leg is social responsibility, while another is economic.  The third leg, which gets a lot of attention, is environmental responsibility.  These thoughts and practices are second nature to us, in part, because of our relationship with our core researchers at UW-Madison, USDA, Ag Experiment Systems and our County Extension Agents.  Another reason for the prevalence of these practices on our farms is that is makes good business sense, serving us in achieving both our short and long term goals.  Biodiversity is just one component of our environmental responsibility.

Biodiversity tells us the number and variety of different native species found within an ecosystem. This is important to each of us.  A diverse environment of native species compared to similar environments that are dominated by a few non-native and often weedy less desirable species, is more stable ecologically and provides many essential services to communities. These ecosystem services are not always easy to identify.  They include many valuable natural benefits such as: water filtration, maintenance of soil structure and health, habitat for birds and pollinating insects, alternative food sources to preserve beneficial insect predators and habitats for rare and endangered species.  We have all of these things at work in our diverse ecosystem landscape.   (more…)

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…)

Fresh and Local – Wisconsin Potato Growers: Innovators in Sustainability

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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…)

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