America’s Veggieland?

Home to over 1 million cows, Wisconsin still rightfully deserves its America’s Dairyland moniker, and when it comes to crops, even a casual observer of our countryside can see that corn is king.

What I’m not sure of is whether Wisconsinites realize what a player our state is when it comes to growing vegetables. 

Combined with Minnesota and Illinois, we make up our nation’s largest growing region for processed vegetables like carrots, sweet corn, green peas, and snap beans. Our central location gives us a freight advantage over western states.

As a result, a fair share of information on vegetables was served up at January’s Ag Outlook Forum. The annual event on the UW-Madison campus was held in conjunction with the release of the annual Status of Wisconsin Agriculture report.

A.J. Bussan, an associate professor and extension vegetable specialist, says Wisconsin’s vegetable sector is creating added value by associating its produce with the sustainable-green image. Wisconsin growers are leading the way in determining how sustainability within the vegetable industry will be defined and achieved on the national level. Specifically, Wisconsin is home to many proactive efforts to address the water concerns associated with growing vegetables. Many of Wisconsin’s vegetables are grown in the aptly named “central sands” portion of the state.

Rainy spring was not good for spuds

When it comes to potatoes, Wisconsin ranked third in production and fourth in number of acres planted (62,000) last year. A rainy April in central Wisconsin meant potatoes had to be planted during an unseasonably cool May. It resulted in the lowest total production since 1992. There was a similar story on the national scene, where additional acres were planted, but Mother Nature’s wrath led to poor yields.

Chips bring jobs to Beloit

Bussan said about 21% of Wisconsin’s potatoes are used for chips. A business expansion by Kettle in Beloit is expected to bring 50 to 100 new jobs there in April. Usage for the rest of the Wisconsin potato crop can be sliced as follows: 50% for the fresh market, 20% for the frozen market, and 9% for seed. Bussan said to expect a spike in potato prices due to widespread shortages.

When talking about vegetables, many first think of the produce on display at local farmers markets. There’s good news on that front too. Wisconsin is now home to approximately 2,500 fresh market vegetable farms. That’s up by 1,000 from a decade ago (a nearly 70% increase). More of these entrepreneurial growers are adopting year-round greenhouse growing methods.

Yes, Wisconsin is one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the nation, but vegetables are only half of the specialty crop story. Fruit crops also add to the economic diversity of rural Wisconsin.

Wisconsin produced 4.35 million barrels of cranberries last year. That’s the lion’s share of the 10 million barrels produced nationwide. Then there were 43.8 million pounds of apples grown within Wisconsin’s borders. Door County alone grew most of the state’s more than 8 million pounds of tart cherries.

Final thought

Economists like to stress the need to diversify. The next time you find yourself driving along a rural road, whether the view includes corn, cattle, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, or cranberries, consider that Wisconsin agriculture sports a diversified portfolio like no other.

Missed the Ag Outlook Forum on the UW-Madison campus? No problem … you can watch video from the event by visiting

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