Even after a good harvest, potato growers can still have a bad year. They can lose up to 20 percent of the crop as it sits in storage. That”s a big problem for Wisconsin growers: Eighty percent of the state”s potato crop, valued at more than $200 million, goes into storage in order to furnish processors with a year-round supply.
To address this costly problem, Wisconsin potato growers are providing the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a research facility geared toward finding ways to curb losses and improve quality of stored potatoes.
The recently completed Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Storage Research Facility at the UW-Madison Hancock Agricultural Research Station was built by the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and will be transferred to the university next month.
It”s a $2.9-million-dollar investment for the growers – including a $500,000 endowment to maintain the facility – which they expect to pay substantial dividends.
“Over the years, all growers have had storage issues with vegetables sustaining millions of dollars in losses from shrink, physiological disorders and disease,” explains grower Dennis Zeloski of Lake Mills. “If the potato storage season could be lengthened by one month, the value to the Wisconsin potato industry could be up to $32 million per year.”
Molly Jahn, dean of the UW-Madison”s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, says the new facility will greatly enhance researcher”s ability to address storage problems.
“Our scientists will be able to begin identifying new ways to protect the quality of our stored potatoes, which in turn will keep profits in the pockets of our growers,” says Jahn, who helped dedicate the new facility on July 26.
The facility features nine bins, nine storage lockers and laboratory space that university researchers will use to understand the environmental conditions necessary to preserve the quality and extend the life of French fry potatoes, chipping potatoes, fresh potatoes and seed potatoes.
The facility is also ideal for testing storage requirements for new varieties of potatoes. Such research reduces the economic risk that growers incur when they venture to try new types of potatoes, says Mike Carter, executive director of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association.
“We”ll have the opportunity to study those new varieties and make darned sure they”re going to work out in storage before we start growing massive quantities,” he says.
For growers, the state-of-the-art facility promises to help preserve their potatoes and improve their bottom line. For consumers, it means higher quality chips, fries and bakers.
“This building is really a world-class facility; there”s nothing else on the face of the earth like this,” says Carter. “We”re really proud of that, and we have high expectations for the work that will come out of here. We believe it will positively affect both the growers and the consumers.”