STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Every year, the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetables Growers Association (WPVGA) spends about one-third of its total budget on research, according to WPVGA executive director Duane Maatz.
“In recent years, the research focus has expanded to address environmental concerns, including water conservation,” he said. “Through our research conducted by University of Wisconsin scientists, we have gained great efficiencies in crop water management.
“We are also now able to produce the same amount of potatoes on 62,000 acres that we used to produce on 85,000 acres. That’s tremendous efficiency that’s taken place just in the last 20 years.”
University of Wisconsin horticulturist Dr. A.J. Bussan is one of WPVGA’s base-funded researchers in the areas of potato and vegetable production. He received the association's Researcher of the Year Award at the recent state grower conference.
Bussan has done a tremendous amount of work in the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Storage Research Facility in Hancock, Wis., noted Maatz. He also works on several nationally-funded potato research projects, including the U.S. Potato Board’s national chip and fry processing trials. Additionally, Bussan has conducted research related to reducing the amount of acrylamide in processed potatoes and made key contributions to the WPVGA’s Water Task Force.
Bussan says Wisconsin potato and vegetable growers use water wisely, and because of that, are able to produce food for the rest of the country with a much smaller carbon footprint than would otherwise be possible.
Wisconsin ranks second nationally behind California in the production of all processed vegetables, according to Bussan. “We are 2,000 miles closer than California to 50 percent of the U.S. population that lives east of the Mississippi River,” he said. “Irrigated production, particularly in central Wisconsin, is the cornerstone of the vegetable industry that contributes to the $6.3 billion specialty crop industry and employs over 35,000 Wisconsin residents. The judicious use of water by Wisconsin farmers allows our state to produce food efficiently for over half the country's citizens.”
He noted the groundwater aquifer in central Wisconsin is unique locally and nationally. “As long as annual precipitation continues to exceed annual pumping, the aquifer will be recharged and sustained,” Bussan said. “There is little or no evidence to suggest that irrigation threatens the aquifer’s long-term existence.”
Bussan emphasized that Wisconsin vegetable growers are outstanding stewards of the land and have provided annual funding toward research to better understand the complexities of crop water use and evapotranspiration (ET), which is the loss of water to the atmosphere by the combined processes of evaporation (from soil and plant surfaces) and transpiration (from plant tissues).
“The industry is committed to the preservation of the groundwater resources in Central Wisconsin and throughout the state,” Bussan said. “The growers have invested in research to provide science-based solutions that are acceptable to farmers and their neighbors. ET-based irrigation scheduling and documenting ET by crop are just two of the many research projects funded by the WPVGA. We are also studying new varieties of crops that require lower amounts of water during peak times of crop growth.”
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel