March 22, 2011
By: Deana Knuteson, University of Wisconsin – Madison
The “Healthy Grown” potato program has enjoyed continual success since its inception enrolling 4000-6000 acres annually (10-15% of the Wisconsin fresh potato crop). We have been successful in developing educational tools to help growers advance their practices to use more biologically-based, less toxic practices, to become knowledgeable about ecosystem conservation and take positive conservation actions to protect or restore rare plants and animals on privately owned farms, and to move to more sustainable growing practice to receive marketplace recognition. These educational tools have been used in states throughout the US and internationally.
A tenet of the program has been to measure and document changes in the industry that have resulted from the program. In the past eight years, participating growers achieved a 52% increase in adoption of sustainable practices accompanied by a 30% reduction in the toxicity of pesticides applied to potatoes, without sacrificing yield, quality or profitability. Furthermore, more than 400 acres of privately owned non-agricultural landscapes have been restored to increase biodiversity on the individual farms as a result of this program.
There have been local successes in the sales and marketing of “Healthy Grown” potatoes, although large scale sales have not occurred as of yet. However, ongoing discussions with several large, Wisconsin-based potato grower and brokerage cooperatives concerning the use of the sustainable certification provided by the “Healthy Grown” program are expected to significantly increase sales in 2011
Since 2010, with the beginning of our “Healthy Farms” initiative, we have been able to expand our working groups to include vegetable processors, buyers, and additional growers to increase participation of the program. We have developed pilot “Whole Farm Standards” that assesses sustainability at the farm level in conjunction with pilot standards for fresh and processed potatoes, processed snap beans and carrots. The Whole Farm Standard addresses criteria in Environmental (ecosystems, biodiversity, soil, water, crop nutrients, pest management), Social (labor, community, consumer) and Economic (profitability, energy, carbon, value added) sustainability. The individual crop standards address sustainability criteria that are specific to each crop. The expanded standards will be piloted to Midwestern growers in 2011. In the near future, we plan to include more vegetable and field crops into the effort. It is a critical time to develop a whole farm program, as growers need to capitalize on market opportunities which are arising as a result of the “sustainability” and “green” initiatives which have been started in the food industry.