Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘WPVGA’

Thoughts for Food: The Security of Our Nation’s Food Supply

It is estimated that we will need to double worldwide crop production by 2050 to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing global population, and yet the availability of agricultural land in the US is declining. Blog 11 - Thoughts for Food

  • How do we face this immense challenge when US agriculture is already operating at peak efficiency?
  • How can we guarantee that Americans will have a safe and reliable food supply at prices they can afford?
  • How can we ensure that our food supply is not dependent on imports (think of what our dependency on foreign oil is doing to our economy)?

The answers to these questions reside in the ingenuity and dedication of American farmers who for centuries have risen to the challenges of producing more with less on fewer acres. Nowhere else is this better exemplified than in Wisconsin (more…)

Sharing the Bounty – Part 2, Potatoes to Those in Need

Potatoes are among the most nutritious and satisfying of all the vegetables, and since they can be stored for long periods of time, they can be shipped and used to help to reduce hunger in faraway areas where food is in short supply.  To help people in need, Wisconsin potato growers have successfully provided potatoes to local food pantries, and now are looking to respond to needs in other parts of the United States and even overseas.  Examples of these efforts are:

Food for Hurricane Sandy Victims

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When the victims of hurricane Sandy were still reeling from the storm’s devastating effects and food reserves were dwindling, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association quickly stepped forward to supply healthy and hearty Wisconsin potatoes to some of the hardest hit areas like Staten Island. Under the leadership of Sowinski Farms in Rhinelander, over a dozen Wisconsin potato farms throughout the state came together in less than a week to assemble 80,000 lbs of potatoes and the necessary semi-trucks to deliver them to the City Harvest food pantry in Long Island City for local distribution to needy residents. This generosity, which can only stem from the whole industry working together, is typical of the Wisconsin potato growers.  As John Hein of Sowinski Farms noted, “Someday, our area may need the same kind of assistance, so it’s nice to be able to help.”

African Seed Potatoes

Blog 9 - African Seed PotatoesLarry Alsum, a founding member of Wisconsin’s Healthy Grown Potato program, has been active in promoting sustainable farming in Wisconsin and is now working in one of the poorest regions of Africa to extend these practical sustainability lessons to subsistence farming communities.

In January of 2012, Larry and Derrick Smith (also of Alsum Farms and Produce, a grower/packer of vegetables in Arena and Friesland, WI), traveled to the west coast of Africa and visited the countries of Ghana and Liberia.  While there, they focused on sharing their years of experience in sustainable farming in a very practical way.  Larry was convinced that helping the African farmers grow their own potato crops would be the most effective way to meet their future food security needs.  Working with Antigo seed potato growers, the best varieties for West Africa were selected and forty tons of high quality seed potatoes were shipped to those areas.

Larry admits that there are risks “The farmers don’t have the tools or technologies we have here in the states—they have machetes and hoes, that’s it. So each person farms about two acres.  They will each plant small patches of potatoes from this shipment, which should support about 125 families.”

Larry’s optimism has been rewarded; the potatoes arrived in great shape in both countries, and they were planted. On a follow up visit to Liberia, Larry reported that “the potatoes are sprouting, and the farmers are pleased to see that!”

It is rewarding testimony from a far-reaching program that will continue to feed the rural farmers of West Africa for years to come.

 

More Food with Less Water

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A new report released by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (Feb 12,2013) stated that power generation and municipal uses account for 85% of total state water use compared with 4% by agriculture. Even in Portage, Adams and Waushara (among the highest use counties), municipal withdraws were higher (42%) than agricultural irrigation (33%). These counties “comprise much of the central sands area of the state known as a globally significant vegetable production region” according to the DNR report; production and processing of specialty crops, which are concentrated in the region, contribute $6.4 billion in economic return to the state and generate almost 35,000 jobs.

In recent years, concern over water use and availability in the region has sparked debate over the impact of climate, irrigation, and municipalities on groundwater resources.  While climate is an impact that local growers have no control over, they do have the ability to impact the efficiency of irrigation, especially during the peak use in July and August when crops require the most water. Mike Copas, field manager from Russet Potato Exchange, explains the importance of his irrigation strategy as “a complete approach to conserving the resource by supplying only what the crop needs. We understand the importance of managing our water resources wisely and are utilizing the most advanced technologies to be the most efficient in our usage for our potato and vegetable rotations”.

The majority of growers use center pivot overhead irrigation systems, which are monitored continuously to ensure uniform water distribution, precisely control the amount of water applied, and operated during off peak hours whenever possible to conserve energy demand on the system. To increase the efficiency of these systems, growers are adopting a range of cutting edge technologies including variable-rate precision irrigation, deficit irrigation and drip irrigation. Sophisticated irrigation scheduling programs have been developed and used to precisely match water applied to crop need and thus eliminate waste. However, growers are now pushing the envelope further by mapping the varying soil types and their ability to retain water across fields; water is applied at variable rates according to crop need in a new technology termed,  “variable-rate, precision irrigation,” which has been shown to not only save water but increase crop quality.

Additional technologies are also being tested in research funded by the WPVGA that include crop varieties and landscapes that require less water, withholding water during non-critical growth stages (deficit irrigation), and drip irrigation. Together, these innovative approaches make a difference. As Mike Copas concludes, “water management is a complex task, and we use all our tools to manage it as effectively as possible.  As a grower and land manager, I want people to know that we are working hard to maintain our water resources. They are an integral part of our farming operation, and to maintain it for the long-term, we will utilize our water correctly”.

Wisconsin Potato Growers Lead the Nation in Developing Sustainable Food Production Systems

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In the mid-1990s, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recognized the importance of preserving both Wisconsin’s natural resources and food production systems for future generations by entering into a precedent-setting alliance designed to promote sustainable farming methods. The growers worked jointly with University of Wisconsin scientists to adopt ecologically-based approaches to fresh potato production that would reduce pesticide risk, promote biodiversity and enhance natural resources. The result—the “Healthy Grown” label— was launched in 2002 and endorsed by the WWF. It was the nation’s first sustainable label for fresh produce and has gained widespread recognition from national and local environmental organizations.

The Healthy Grown program has enrolled 10-15% of Wisconsin’s fresh potato crop annually since its launch; growers must meet tough standards in all aspects of production to earn certification. The results have been impressive with growers achieving a 52% increase in adoption of sustainable farming practices and a 30% reduction in pesticide risk over the first 10 years.

Russell Wysocki, a grower in Bancroft, Wisconsin and owner of RPE, Inc., believes his farm and the Healthy Grown program have the same goal of actively conserving the landscape.  Russell says “We are stewards of the land; this is an opportunity to do good things for the land and good things for the industry.”  These accomplishments were recognized nationally in 2003 with the USDA’s prestigious Secretaries Honors Award for Maintaining and Enhancing the Nations Natural Resources and the Environment.

Rather than resting on its laurels, in 2004 the WPVGA, in partnership with the International Crane Foundation, embarked on an ambitious new project to protect and restore remnants of natural communities in the agricultural landscape to improve habitat quality for natural species and enhance biodiversity.

Most recently, Wisconsin’s potato and vegetable growers are once again demonstrating their pioneering spirit by expanding the scope of Healthy Grown beyond potatoes to encompass Whole Farm Sustainability which represents the core principles on which emerging sustainability initiatives across the US will be built.

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