Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘sustainable’

Using Less Water to Grow More Food

Blog 20

Wisconsin’s Central Sands is a unique and bountiful place. Its rain-fed groundwater aquifer feeds one of the nation’s most productive potato and vegetable growing areas. The sandy glacial soils and easily accessible aquifer for irrigation allow Wisconsin to rank in the top three in green beans, peas, sweetcorn and potatoes, which contribute to our diverse and healthy agricultural economy. With an average annual rainfall of 32”, our aquifer is replenished yearly and the groundwater level remains constant, with minor fluctuations.

Ever mindful of the importance of a sustainable groundwater supply and how this resource has been depleted in other parts of the country, potato growers recently measured the depth to groundwater in over 50 irrigation wells in Portage county and found that all but 3 have groundwater at the same or higher levels compared to those recorded when they were first drilled over the last half century. This careful scrutiny is being expanded across the 6-county sands area to ensure that our groundwater is not at risk.

This same aquifer is also connected to and essential for the well-being of the many streams, lakes and wetlands that make the sands an ideal place to live. Wisconsin potato growers are at the forefront in managing these fragile ecosystems, and making sure they remain healthy during dry climate years, when the need for agricultural water use increases. The potato industry is sensitive to these concerns and is actively seeking new ways to irrigate their crops using less water. One logical approach is to increase productivity so that more food can be grown on fewer acres. Potatoes are a good example where this has been achieved. Over the past decade, innovations in production gained through improvements in varieties, fertility, soil health and pest management have allowed growers to produce 95% of the potatoes they did a decade ago but on 20% fewer acres, saving a whopping 25% of the water needed to grow potatoes!

Growers are now actively working with UW researchers to reduce water use still further. In the Department of Horticulture, a research group led by Mike Drilias, is looking at ways to induce crops to root deeper and use the water in the soil more efficiently. One method currently being studied is to simply apply less water to the crop (deficit irrigation) throughout the growing season and force the roots go deeper to find it. Mike has found that crops respond differently to such treatment. Potatoes differ by variety with some less affected while other varieties lose yield and, surprisingly, sweetcorn attained the same yields with 25% less water. Withholding water at specific growth stages (deferred irrigation) is another approach that is rapidly gaining acceptance by growers. Naturally deep-rooted crops such as soybeans, field corn and sweet corn, tend to ‘cheat’ when water is plentiful near the surface and develop shallow root systems but when water is withheld early in the season roots will go deeper and use water that would otherwise be lost. Such tactics can save growers over 2 inches of water on an acre of cropland—that’s 7 million gallons on a single field—without sacrificing yield.

An exciting new concept is also now being investigated that could prove critical in conserving water in irrigated agricultural systems. This takes advantage of the differential use of water by crops, which has been studied by UW departments of Horticulture, Soils, Agronomy and Biological Systems Engineering faculty and students. This differing need for water among crops opens the potential for designing future agricultural landscapes that can be profitable and yet use less water. Such landscapes have been evolving naturally, driven by economic and production considerations over the past 20 years. As potato acreage, (which requires 18 to 22 inches of total water throughout the growing season, including rainfall), has declined in response to greater productivity, the acreages of green beans (which need only 6.5 inches) and sweet corn (needing 12 inches) have increased to fill the gap, resulting in landscapes that actually use 25% less water. The potato and vegetable industry is actively supporting research in this area with the goal of designing landscape strategies to develop crop rotations in space and time to promote water conserving farmscapes.

For more information contact: wyman@ wisc.edu

Water is the Most Precious Resource for Wisconsin’s Potato and Vegetable Growers

Blog 30

Water use is a critical issue in central Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA), as well as its grower members are committed to the judicious use of this most precious resource.

WPVGA formed The Water Task Force in 2009 to bring together resources and expertise to foster the sustainable use of water resources in the Central Sands. The committee was also formed to develop and promote responsible water use practices that will protect the groundwater aquifer of the Central Sands and its associated streams, lakes and wetlands.

The goal of the Wisconsin potato and vegetable growers is to do this in a way that ensures a sustainable agricultural industry for future generations, fosters vibrant rural communities and respects the needs of all its citizens.

The WPVGA Water Task Force has already made remarkable progress in advancing all of its objectives. For example, to increase understanding of the hydrology of the Central Sands, the Task Force has initiated a program to measure groundwater depths in privately-owned irrigation wells across space and time. They have purchased and installed equipment to continuously monitor groundwater in four areas designated as high risk for surface water impacts. They have also commissioned and funded a study by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey to expand understanding of tunnel channel lakes in high risk areas and their interaction with groundwater–this study has since expanded into a significant modeling project funded by NRCS.   (more…)

Local foods: What does this mean to you?

 

Blog 53

Local foods, what does that actually mean?  There are many definitions, but generally people define it based on their personal beliefs and some rough, geographical information.  Some think local foods can only come from within 100 miles of one’s home.  Many others define local foods as those grown and sold within their own states, regions or anywhere within the United States.  The USDA defines local as within 400 miles; by this definition, “locavores” would buy and consume food only grown within our state.  In general, most of us define local as anything grown within our great state of Wisconsin or at least within the boundaries of the United States.  But underlying that is the belief that it’s just healthy food that adds value to our local economy—this is a very reasonable definition.  Whatever your definition, the actual details always come back to:  what does it matter to me and my family? Is this sustainable for my long-term food security, my health, the safety of food and for the economic sustainability of my community? So, now let’s look at the term “local” as a realistic vision for the long-term health and benefits to our society.

Agricultural specialization has resulted in many ecological, economic and societal advancements over time.  The “supply more for less inputs” is very successful within these specialized industries, and this has resulted in a sustainable, large-scale agricultural system.  With today’s industrialization, agricultural is a multi-faceted industry with wide ranging distribution systems and complex interactions among the supply chain.  Many times, you may be buying a locally produced product, but you would not be aware of it simply because it is not stated clearly on the packaging.  But if you knew it was local, would you buy it over another non-local product?  Would you pay more?  Do you have any idea of the community value local food production brings to rural America?  Do you know that these locally produced agricultural products have vast impacts and great influence on our local economies?

For a specific example, let’s look at the value that the Central Wisconsin vegetable system has brought to many local communities in our state.  A seven county region in Central Wisconsin known as the Central Sands region  is one of the most abundant, healthy, and productive regions for vegetables in the nation.  You may know the value this region brings to ensuring a safe and effective food supply for all of us, but do you know the economic value this brings to each county and their rural communities?  These counties (Portage, Waushara, Adams, Marquette, Wood, Green Lake and Waupaca) have thriving rural economies due to the impacts of agriculture in the region.

Let’s look at each county individually to see specifics on how many jobs, tax revenue, sales and/or percentages of economic value are involved in agricultural in the regions*.

  • Portage
    o   Agriculture provides over 5500 jobs in the county – 13% of total county workforce.
    o   Over $32 million are paid in taxes due to agricultural activity.
    o   Vegetable production alone provides over $103 million dollars of sales.
  • Waushara
    o   Agriculture accounts for 19% of jobs in the county.
    o   Agriculture and its related businesses provide over $230 million dollars into the regions (more than 22% of total counties business sales).
  • Adams
    o   Provide $7 million in taxes.
    o   Direct marketing sales add $67,000 to economy.
    o   Farmers account for 28% of the county’s land.
  • Marquette
    o   Agriculture provides over 1900 jobs to the region.
    o   Processing companies account for $65.9 million of income in the county.
  • Wood
    o   Pays almost $22 million in taxes.
    o   Business to business activity in the county generates over $54 million in sales.
  • Green Lake
    o   Agriculture provides 15% of the county’s jobs.
    o   Agriculture in the county accounts for $88 million (or 16%) of county incomes.
  • Waupaca
    o   Vegetable production accounts for over $9 million in sales.
    o   Around 14% of county income comes from agriculture.

So, no matter how you define local, the important thing to remember is that local Wisconsin agriculture produces high-quality products while providing a great value to rural communities.  Your local buying decisions help support those growers and create economic benefits to these areas.  However you define local, it must be comforting to know that local farmers are working hard to provide you healthy, safe food, while also providing valuable resources, taxes  and jobs to our local communities.

 

*Data source:  “The Economic Impacts of Agriculture in Wisconsin Counties” by Steven Deller, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin–Madison/Extension
And David Williams, Agricultural and Natural Resources Program Area, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Cooperative Extension.  Full report found at:  http://www.uwex.edu/ces/ag/wisag/documents/EconomicImpactsPaper_3-24-11-5final.pdf 
General information and county specific details are found at: http://www.uwex.edu/ces/ag/wisag/

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