We know that Wisconsin is America's Dairyland, but our state's agriculture offers so much more, including healthy and delicious potatoes. During the entire month of March, I'll be joining forces with the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) to highlight ways to stay healthy with America's favorite vegetable.
Ranked third in the nation for potato production, and number one east of the Mississippi, Wisconsin potato growers produce a rainbow of colorful varieties of these tasty spuds. In addition to Russets, you'll find red, white, yellow and even purple potatoes to add variety to your healthy meal recipes.
Wisconsin's Central Sands region is prime land for growing potatoes so, that's where I headed last month for a day of tours with the U.S. Potato Industry Leadership Institute (PILI).
The PILI was created to educate and motivate growers to share their stories and create a strong voice for the betterment of the potato industry through leadership positions in state and national organizations. The Leadership Institute program provides an overview of the potato business to growers and businesses, its challenges and issues beyond production.
The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) had the privilege of serving as the host for this year's Institute, welcoming potato enthusiasts from all over the country. Participants toured several potato-related businesses to learn just how important potatoes are to Wisconsinites. According to the University of Wisconsin Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, potatoes in our state contribute nearly $260 million to the Wisconsin economy, resulting in over 2,000 jobs.
The day started with a visit to RPE in Bancroft. This family-owned business has been producing premiere potatoes and onions for families to enjoy for more than 30 years. We were able to learn a bit about the history and evolution of the business. We also toured the facility where the potatoes are washed, tested for quality and packaged before being shipped off to grocery store shelves. RPE is home to several nationally-recognized brands, and the business really focuses on delivering innovative, high-quality products from its fields to your table.
From there, it was off to Hancock and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Storage Research Facility. This top-of-the-line research center was designed and built by Wisconsin potato and vegetable growers and donated to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It has nine bulk storage bins where potatoes, piled up to 18 feet high, are tested for such things as humidity levels, in an effort to find out what levels are best for keeping potatoes fresh until ready for processing and packaging.
While there, we saw some of the current research being done on potato varieties to find the best ones for making the highest-quality and tastiest potato chip on the market.
Our final tour for the day brought us to the InteVation Foods headquarters in Plover. This brand new, state-of-the-art plant is a USDA inspected facility that houses over 100,000 square feet of innovative equipment used in the production of a variety of food products including twice-baked potatoes and appetizers for restaurants such as TGI Friday. Our tour group witnessed a green bean appetizer being produced and packaged. No waste here. A lot of the scraps that either didn't meet length standards or fell on the floor, were collected to be used to feed neighboring livestock, saving money and resources for everyone involved.
Thank you so much to the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association for your dedication to sustainably producing high-quality potatoes in a rainbow of varieties for us to enjoy year-round and for all the things you do for Wisconsin agriculture.
To see some of these endless options, log on to www.eatwisconsinpotatoes.com for fun, unique and healthy recipes!
Remember, Wisconsin agriculture is yours. Today, tomorrow and always.