Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘Sustainability’

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…)

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 – A lifetime of learning: Wisconsin potato growers refine their craft

Blog 45

It’s cold out there on the farm! The snow falls, the wind whistles, and there is just not much you can do to get a jump on the coming season—well, not quite. If you are a Wisconsin potato grower, now is the perfect time to refine your skills and learn something new. Wisconsin already enjoys a well-deserved reputation as national leaders in sustainable potato production. In this new era where consumers are increasingly basing their purchasing choices on how sustainably their food is grown, Wisconsin is already ahead of the pack in adopting the practices that are now in demand. They introduced the nation’s first vegetable eco-label with Healthy Grown™ fresh potatoes over a decade ago and are now reaping the benefits of this foresight. A Wisconsin potato grown using practices that sustain the environment, local economies, and the wellbeing of rural communities, can now stack up against the best potatoes you can produce anywhere, and it’s grown right here in your backyard—no extra food miles needed to travel to get here!

Building that kind of advantage does not come without a huge investment! The Wisconsin potato industry invests over $400,000 every year (no small potatoes!) with research partners from the University of Wisconsin to develop the tools that keep Wisconsin on the cutting edge along with the basic science that underpins those tools. The UW potato research and extension team is unrivaled anywhere in using grower support to generate tens of millions of dollars in additional competitive grant funds to advance the industry.

Funding the research and developing the tools that growers can use are only the first steps.  Working together to implement them is the key to success!  This comes through an intensive and continuing educational process involving on-farm field days, local county meetings and culminates in an annual state-wide Grower Education Conference.  Held during the coldest part of the winter in February, this is the “crown jewel” of the Potato Industry’s education program.  Over 350 growers from Wisconsin and around the nation gather together for three days in Stevens Point, WI.

With temperatures hovering around the zero degree mark this year, pickup trucks jammed the parking areas and surrounding streets of the conference center. The lineup of speakers—from Wisconsin, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, Iowa, Washington DC and even Cambridge, England—were on hand to share expertise. An amazing array of forty-two speakers from the University of Wisconsin, representing 11 different academic departments, shared research and recommendations covering all aspects of potato production. Theme areas in 2014 included issues impacting groundwater, pest and nutrient management, breeding, variety development, food safety, storage and overall sustainability. The depth and breadth of this research is remarkable!

One key theme throughout the conference was preserving our groundwater resources for future generations. Presentations covered both the basic science underlying water use by crops and natural vegetation along with how this information can be used to model the interactions between the groundwater aquifer and surface lakes and streams. In-depth discussions of potential and ongoing projects that examine the impact of different crop landscapes on water use, as well as new technologies to deliver water precisely and only where and when it is needed were all part of the intense education the Wisconsin growers experienced.

Everyone left tired but brimming with fresh ideas and a renewed enthusiasm to implement the technologies and practices that will keep Wisconsin at the forefront of sustainable production. So, when the next snowstorm races across the state and those farms appear frozen and inactive, remember that the growers aren’t on winter break!

Thoughts for Food: The Season is Winding Down

Blog 40

Fall is here in Wisconsin’s Central Sands!  Highlights of yellow and orange are popping up in the hardwoods that mingle with the cropland of this uniquely productive area that is so important to the nation’s supply of potatoes and vegetables.  The harvested fields are taking on an emerald sheen as the rye cover crops become established to protect and nourish the soil for next season.  It’s time to rest the land for a spell, to recharge the groundwater that drives the system, and recharge the spirits of this remarkable group of growers who will use this time to learn and digest what worked and what still needs more work.

We hope that you have enjoyed the “Thoughts for Food” series of articles.  Over the past 6 months, we have introduced you to the Central Sands region and its unique growers by taking you through the potato growing season.  We have looked at the challenges faced each year in growing the crops, introduced you to innovations made by the industry, and explained the business of agriculture in a realistic, yet simple manner.  This important industry, which is one of the economic engines of central Wisconsin, works hard to preserve the natural resources of the area for future generations.  For a full re-cap of the season, you can journey back in time and check out any of the topic areas at your leisure (search the archives for the “Thoughts for Food” series on the new family farm blog posts).   (more…)

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