Next time you dig into a loaded baked potato or top your bratwurst with flavorful kraut, thank a Wisconsin vegetable farmer.
Along with a large variety of commodities, the Dairy State produces a wide range of vegetables for processing and the fresh market. In fact, the state ranks No. 1 in the U.S. for snap beans for processing and beets for canning and No. 3 for potatoes, sweet corn for processing, peas for processing and cucumbers for pickles, among others.
“Our state is blessed with outstanding soil and water resources, as well as a favorable climate for vegetable production,” says Tamas Houlihan, executive director for the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. “Our growers have a long history of land stewardship. They are knowledgeable and progressive, adopting the latest technology in their farming practices.”
A Strong Industry
Among the many vegetables included in Wisconsin’s industry, Houlihan says the potato sector is one of the strongest and most stable. Alsum Farms & Produce grows 2,300 acres of potatoes along the lower Wisconsin River Valley in Arena, Spring Green and Grand Marsh.
Founded in 1973, Alsum Farms & Produce, a second-generation, family-owned-and-operated farm, involves Larry Alsum working alongside several family members, including his two daughters.
“We grow russet, red, white, gold, fingerling and purple potatoes in a sustainable, eco-friendly manner,” Alsum says. “We’re growing four times as many potatoes as we did 25 years ago using less land, energy and water, and lower emissions per acre grown.”
Alsum Farms & Produce is a national distributor of Wisconsin potatoes and onions, and partners with other growers across the nation to deliver other fresh produce year round.
“These relationships are focused on providing our customers with top-quality produce throughout the year, and it simplifies the buying function for them,” Alsum says.
Though Alsum doesn’t grow any vegetables organically, they do work with other organic farms to market a year-round supply of organic russet, red and gold potatoes.
According to the 2014 Organic Survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin was home to 68 organic potato farms that earned a value of $1.33 million in sales.
Andy Diercks of Coloma Farms also produces Wisconsin potatoes, farming about 2,700 acres, 750 of which are for potatoes. Roughly half of the crop goes to a local French fry processor, McCain Foods, while other varieties go to the fresh market and for regional chip processors.
“On any given year, we have about 8 to 10 different varieties of potatoes,” Diercks says.
He and his father, Steve, are the third and fourth generation to work on the family farm. They also grow corn and soybeans, and take advantage of opportunities with neighbors to rotate a variety of vegetables such as sweet corn, green beans, peas, carrots and more, thanks to the potatoes’ three-year rotation.
Diercks says he plans to continue to diversify to be more profitable, but also to make the best decisions for the environment, employees and neighbors. With the help of researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the WPVGA, Diercks says Wisconsin vegetable farmers are always looking at new crops to grow, and better ways to grow and market existing crops.