Alkaline and volcanic soil versus sandy loam. Several more weeks of growing a crop versus several weeks less.
Those are just some of the differences Wisconsin growers have versus Idaho growers in growing potatoes, all resulting in different average potato yields.
Because not all potato-growing regions in the United States are the same-such as climate or soil content-Wisconsin scientists are coming up with solutions more localized to growers in their region.
Because of how diverse the landscape of Wisconsin is, the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has agricultural research stations throughout the state. Once called "experiment farms," these research stations are used by scientists and students studying biological and agricultural sciences as well as natural resources to better help Wisconsin growers.
Waushara County is in the part of Wisconsin known as the "Golden Sands," a region encompassing almost 2.5 million acres of sandy plain in central Wisconsin. Research at the Hancock Agricultural Research Station, about 80 miles north of Madison, focuses on irrigated vegetable and field crops with an emphasis on potatoes, as well as other crops such as snap beans, cucumbers, field corn, sweet corn and alfalfa. The station has been recognized for sustainable agriculture research and outreach activities, and for research and demonstration work that supports integrated agricultural systems, particularly those focusing on ground water quality, environmental quality and wind erosion.
At the Hancock Agricultural Research Station is the relatively new Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Storage Research Facility. The facility is a state-of-the-art research tool being utilized by researchers, growers and industry representatives to explore solutions to current storage issues. Nine bulk bins allow for the observation of large quantities-about 220,000 lbs-of potatoes under conditions similar to those in a commercial bulk storage. Nine smaller storage lockers are used for projects that involve many small samples (30-2,000 lbs) or experimental treatments.
The facility was designed to allow for the recording of conditions within the bulk bins and storage lockers. Staff can monitor and record pile temperature, relative humidity, carbon dioxide levels and fan speed. The facility also continues to serve as an educational tool to curious visitors, school children and international agricultural tour groups.
After being discussed for over 20 years, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers decided to pursue the development of a facility dedicated to potato storage research in 2002. Storage issues addressed needed to include disease prevention and control, seed storage management, sprout inhibitors, sugar-end defects, influence of management practices on finished product quality and variety development.
Funding became available through a Federal Specialty Crop grant to get the project started. The $2.7 million project was designed, built and paid for by growers and given as a gift to the University of Wisconsin. Groundbreaking on the project was April 5, 2006, and building continued through the summer, ready to go by the end of September.
Some of the research projects the facility has pursued include stem-end defects of commercial fields in Wisconsin and Michigan, vine-kill timing with different nitrogen rates and the effect on storability, irrigation trials for vascular discoloration and stem-end defects and variety development.
Mary LeMere is the Assistant Superintendent-Storage Research, serving as manager of the facility. Funding will be sought in the future to add a technician to assist in the processing of fry and sugar samples.
Researchers have recently completed the final additions to the Quality Assurance Laboratory and plan to have a YSI sugar analyzer available for this year's storage season. Visitors are welcome to tour the completed facility and discuss storage concerns.