Wisconsin Growers Broaden Sustainability Horizons

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Wisconsin Growers Broaden Sustainability Horizons

From agricultural research and growing practices, to farmers markets and the buy local momentum seen in grocery stores, people are looking for sustainable practices from field to store. To that end, for the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) is seeking to raise its sustainability scorecard, including its attendance at FMI’s recent Sustainability Summit.

“We wanted to be part of the sustainability conversation,” said Tim Feit, director of promotions and consumer education for WPVGA, which “has been making a concerted sustainable farming effort for over a decade through the Wisconsin Eco-Potato Partnership,” a collaboration with the University of Wisconsin and the World Wildlife Fund. “We feel it’s important to partner with other sustainability leaders in order to grow the sustainability effort in our industry.”

The Wisconsin Eco-Potato partnership helps potato growers reduce the use of crop protection inputs — such as nutrients, pesticides and other additives — by adopting integrated pest management (IPM) alternatives — biologically based pest management systems that do not harm the environment. The partnership works to reduce contamination of water, conserve natural ecosystems, and increase productivity through IPM and crop rotation. The International Crane Foundation and the Defenders of Wildlife are also part of the partnership.

The Wisconsin Eco-Potato partnership received the prestigious USDA Secretary's Honor Awards for Maintaining and Enhancing the Nation's Natural Resources and Environment in 2003, the World Wildlife Fund Gift to the Earth Award, the international IPM Award of Achievement in 2005, and the International Crane Foundation Good Egg Award for Excellence in 2006.

As a result of the Eco-Potato Partnership, Antigo, the Wis.-based WPVGA has developed the eco brand, Healthy Grown potatoes. GMO-free and grown according to stringent environmentally friendly growing standards, the Healthy Grown branded spuds and are available in russets, reds, yellow flesh and round white varieties.

“Yes, we’ve been a part of sustainability for 13 years,” added Feit, “but there’s always something new to be learned. The [FMI Sustainability] Summit was an excellent resource for us — we were able to meet with other thought leaders in sustainability, and those conversations have helped us further define the current qualitative market research project we have undertaken to determine the challenges grocers face in meeting consumer demand for local, sustainable produce and product information.”

Ranked third in the nation for potato production, in 2008 Wisconsin potatoes generated over $293 million in product dollars for farmers and shippers, generated $51.5 billion in economic activity via agribusiness, and provided jobs for 420,000 people.

For more information, visit www.wisconsinpotatoes.com.