The Produce News- The Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association represents more than 300 growers and affiliates throughout the state.
“We represent the industry in terms of sharing the importance of buying local and supporting local businesses for a strong economy,” said Dana Rady, director of promotion, communication and consumer education for the WPVGA. “We share that we are the third-largest potato-producing state in the nation and the largest producer east of the Mississippi.”
WPVGA also communicates the many health benefits Wisconsin potatoes provide and how they can power performance.
“They’re the perfect superfood that everyone should eat before activity and after the activity to help the body recover,” Rady said. “We also showcase the multi-generational family farms that are part of our industry in Wisconsin and the sustainable ways growers produce the highest-quality potatoes and vegetables for families each day.”
On average, Wisconsin grows 63,000 acres of potatoes every year. Wisconsin also produces the most varieties of any state.
“It helps that we are working with a commodity that people already love,” Rady said. “A big challenge we face though, is making sure everyone looks at potatoes as a vegetable as opposed to a carb. Potatoes are a vegetable packed with complex carbohydrates. And as a complex carbohydrate, they’re considered a whole food that keeps you feeling full for longer periods of time. So getting this nutrition information out is huge and encouraging people to eat more potatoes in more ways more often.”
The Wisconsin potato industry performed quite well last year.
“Demand was extremely high across the world and it was challenging for the supply to meet those levels,” Rady said. “Across all colors, the red market was the slowest with some areas like Wisconsin going longer than desired. Yellows, however, were very popular. This sector has been increasing in acres and popularity over the last several years. Russets also performed well and prices throughout the season were good.”
This year’s potato crop is also looking very good despite an overall dry and hot season. When planting began in April, Wisconsin struggled for a few weeks to get the heat units growers desired. As the spring and summer months progressed, however, the weather was very dry and hot.
“Growers irrigated more frequently than they have in the past,” Rady said. “And while that was a large help, it wasn’t quite the same as a good, hard rain from Mother Nature. The heat units took off some of the yield, but growers are still reporting average yields for the most part. They’re also reporting that the yellow crop is looking very nice despite some challenges from this year’s growing season. Planting occurs in April/May every year and early harvest on early varieties starts the end of July.”
As an association, WPVGA communicates to consumers across Wisconsin and the Midwest and focus on more urban areas to get the word out.
It’s people in those areas that are typically more removed from agriculture,” Rady said. “In everything, good relationships are at the core of a successful partnership. We strive to achieve that with consumers at WPVGA as do our growers.”
For WPVGA, the biggest growth opportunity is sticking with programming that targets younger generations in unique and creative ways.
“They are the future of potato purchases and also may be farther removed from agriculture,” Rady said. “So, it’s important to get this information in front of them as early as possible and in ways that they resonate with.”
As more and more consumers question where their food comes from, telling that story of farming organizations, the many multi-generational family farms and growers’ sustainable production practices in terms of signage, banners and cross-promotions with other products/commodities, goes a long way with consumers at retail.
“I also think it’s important that people get the research about potatoes fueling performance,” Rady said.
“Additionally, potatoes can be incorporated into the diet of someone with diabetes and they can be part of a healthy weight loss program. I think once all consumers can know and understand all these highly beneficial nutrition facts and what they mean in terms of each person meeting his/her goals, consumers will be scoping out potatoes at the grocery store on an even greater level.”
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