WPVGA Presents Annual Industry Awards

Published online: Feb 14, 2022 Articles
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In addition to its annual Hall of Fame induction, the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) presented several other annual Industry Awards during a banquet on Feb. 9 in Stevens Point.                                

John D. (“J.D.”) Schroeder of Schroeder Brothers Farms, Antigo, Wisconsin, was named the WPVGA Volunteer of the Year. One of the largest Frito-Lay seed potato producers in the country, Schroeder Brothers Farms raises 2,250 acres of certified seed potatoes.

Schroeder graduated from Antigo High School in 2004, and then attended the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, graduating in 2008 with a double major in agricultural business management and political science. He received a law degree in 2011 from the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. He returned to work on the family farm seven years ago.

Schroeder currently serves as a Director on the WPVGA Board, and just completed a five-year term on the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association Board, including service as President in 2021. He serves on the United Potato Growers of Wisconsin Board and has served on the United Potato Growers of America Board. He also serves on the WPVGA Water Task Force, and the Governmental Affairs, SpudPro and Research committees. 

He currently serves as the vice president of the Unified School District of Antigo, treasurer of the Antigo branch of the UW-Madison Alumni Club and is a Community Health Foundation Board member.    

This year’s WPVGA Young Grower of the Year Award goes to Wendy Alsum-Dykstra, chief operating officer for Alsum Farms & Produce, Inc., located in Friesland, Wisconsin, which raises 2,800 acres of Healthy Grown russet, red, white, gold, purple and fingerling potatoes. 

Dykstra, who has served in her present position for 11 years, followed in her father Larry’s footsteps, going to school for accounting and earning Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Professional Accountancy degrees from UW-Whitewater. 

Dykstra serves on the WPVGA Board of Directors and is a member of the Promotions Committee. She also serves on the Board of Potatoes USA and has served on the National Potato Council Finance & Trade Affairs Committee since 2020. She was a Potato Industry Leadership Institute graduate in 2019. Dykstra was a Produce Business 40 under 40 Award recipient in 2019 and received the WPVGA President’s Award in 2015.  

The WPVGA Researcher of the Year Award went to Amber Walker. A 2008 graduate of UW-Oshkosh, Walker is the Storage Research Facility (SRF) manager at the Hancock Agricultural Research Station. In her current position, she facilitates research and assists station users with field and storage projects, provides oversight of laboratory testing services, makes observations and conducts daily maintenance of the SRF.

She is an integral part of research for the potato industry as well as for UW faculty. Walker is responsible for potato quality testing, which includes checking samples for sugar levels. Monitoring the levels of sugars in stored potatoes is critical as elevated levels of certain sugars are responsible for the undesirable dark coloration in fried products. She is also an unbiased evaluator for diseased or otherwise compromised potatoes.

Walker is passionate about combating hunger in the community, which is especially critical during this time of widespread food insecurity brought on with the COVID pandemic. As current chair of the Food Connections Committee, she often works nights and weekends at local food pantries making sure people have access to adequate nutritious food. 

The WPVGA Associate Division Business Person of the Year Award was presented to Rich Wilcox, vice president of agriculture and a business banking officer for the First State Bank branch in Stevens Point. Having joined First State Bank in 2020, Wilcox says he specializes in “all things ag related.”

“Ag seems to be what I know and what has held my interest,” Wilcox says. “I like working with farmers of all kinds, but it was potato growers who I first started working with many years back and that still hold a special place in my heart.”

Wilcox has been an outstanding volunteer for the WPVGA Associate Division Board of Directors, serving as treasurer for the past four years. He also serves on the Spud Bowl Committee and helped with fundraising as well as organizing and coordinating the annual Spud Bowl event in Stevens Point. 

Dan Mahoney received the Agri-Communicator Award for excellence in communication and dedicated service in presenting a positive message about the agricultural industry.

Mahoney grew up in Menasha, Wisconsin, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1981 with degrees in biology and education. From 1998 to 1999, he was the Administrator for the Village of Plover, a role he returned to in 2003.

For the past several years, he has worked tirelessly in leading the Little Plover River Watershed Enhancement Project, which has proven to be an outstanding asset to the community in and around Plover as well as for all of agriculture. Mahoney has done a tremendous job of bringing diverse stakeholders to the table and fostering a spirit of collaboration that has produced positive results for everyone involved.  Mahoney retired as the Village of Plover Administrator on Feb. 4, 2022. 

Though he was unable to attend the banquet, 2021 WPVGA Board President Bill Guenthner of Guenthner Farms Inc., Antigo, presented the President’s Award to his wife, Jolene Guenthner, for her faithful support, guidance and love.

Special WPVGA Industry Appreciation Awards were presented to UW Department of Plant Pathology Professors Ann MacGuidwin and Doug Rouse, each of whom has provided invaluable research, findings, advice and results for WPVGA growers over the years.

A third Industry Appreciate Award went WPVGA Director of Promotions, Communication and Consumer Education Dana Rady, who is celebrating 10 years of service in 2022. Her main duties include promotional program and communication activities, as well as serving as the liaison for the Vegetable and Chip Committees.

Along with Rady’s role at WPVGA, she also serves as the Director of the United Potato Growers Cooperative of Wisconsin, a sister organization to WPVGA that collects and distributes potato production data to its members based on market supply and demand.

WPVGA Executive Director Tamas Houlihan presented Rady with the Industry Appreciation Award in recognition of 10 years of service and outstanding contributions to the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry.