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Wisconsin potato growers optimistic despite severe weather

“While 2018 will go down as one of the most challenging on record for the Wisconsin potato crop, I was encouraged and impressed with the positive outlook displayed by Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association members,” said Tamas Houlihan, executive director of WPVGA. “I was struck by the resolve shown by our members, who remained upbeat and optimistic in the face of severe adversity.”HOULIHANTamas Houlihan

Houlihan explained that the 2018 Wisconsin potato planting season was delayed well into May by the spring’s cold, wet and snowy conditions, and then a heat wave on Memorial Day weekend stunted crop growth and burned off some potatoes that had just emerged. Several heavy rains pounded the state during June, with drought-like conditions throughout July, followed by a very hot August. More wet weather and high temperatures during September delayed the harvest, with consistent rains into October and then several nights of below-freezing temperatures.

“Several thousand acres of potatoes were left in the ground due to severe frost damage,” said Houlihan. “There are concerns with how the crop will hold up in storage due to all the difficulties this growing season. On the positive side, several growers reported that the potatoes they were able to harvest showed better quality than what was expected.”

Other good news for the WPVGA in 2018 included adding two more farms certified as Healthy Grown, bringing the total to 10 farms and over 11,000 acres. Healthy Grown potato farmers work with ecologists, conservationists and University of Wisconsin researchers to utilize and find better, less-invasive ways to manage pests and invasive plants, restore natural ecosystems, prevent erosion, and support native plants and animals.

In addition, the WPVGA received the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce 2018 Environmental Stewardship Award for demonstrating sound environmental practices that are not only good for Wisconsin’s environment and its economy but serve as important examples for industry.

There are several upcoming potato industry events, including the 2019 UW Extension and WPVGA Grower Education Conference & Industry Show Feb. 5-7 at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Convention Center in Stevens Point, WI, where growers will have the opportunity to get a head start on the season. A slate of speakers and presentations will offer farmers information on new technologies, research reports, market outlooks and agribusiness advice.

There will be two new seats available on the WPVGA board of directors beginning in February. Board members serve a three-year term and are limited to two consecutive terms. In February, current board President Josh Mattek of J.W. Mattek & Sons and board member Mark Finnessy of Okray Family Farms will have completed six years on the board; therefore, they are not eligible for re-election. Anyone interested in serving or submitting nominations should contact the WPVGA office. Elections for these board seats will take place at the WPVGA Annual Meeting on Feb. 7 at the conference.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, is hosting several food-safety trainings required for Wisconsin growers who must meet federal produce safety rules. Trainings run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and date options include Jan. 23 in Shawano; Feb. 7 in Baldwin; Feb 15 in Madison; Feb. 28 in Green Bay; and March 15 in Portage. You must register in advance at www.fsmaproducesafety.wiscweb.wisc.edu/registration.

The Potato D.C. Fly-In is Feb. 25-28 and is open to all potato growers and business leaders who want to advocate for, and make a difference on, issues affecting the potato industry.

“A new day is dawning in 2019,” Chris Okray, vice president at Okray Family Farms in Plover, WI, told The Produce News. “We look forward to better prices and great marketing in the new year. The Wisconsin location is ideal for shipping to the Midwest and eastern states. We have a huge freight advantage over Idaho and Washington. Mostly, it is our service that brings people back to Wisconsin — our ability to provide a good product at a reasonable price.”