Grower coalition partners with Wisconsin university


05 May 2023
New public-private partnership to improve seed potato production in Wisconsin

A COALITION of growers has partnered with the University of Wisconsin–Madison to improve the efficiency of seed potato production at the Starks Early Generation Seed Potato Farm in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. 

The farm, part of the university’s Seed Potato Certification Program, produces early generation seed potatoes for Wisconsin producers and other farmers for a fee and its new partner, the Wisconsin Potato Coalition (WPC), consists of a group of four seed potato growers including Eagle River Seed Farm, Baginski Farms, Schroeder Brothers Farms, and J.W. Mattek & Sons, which has assumed operations of planting, growing, and harvesting seed at the Starks Farm for the 2023 crop and beyond. 

The growers have decades of production and business experience between them.

Under the new arrangement, the private WPC will manage approximately 100 acres of early generation seed potatoes along with several hundred acres of rotation crops.

The WPC’s goal is to provide clean, early-generation foundation seed to the Wisconsin potato industry. University scientists and inspectors with the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Program will continue to utilise their expertise in plant pathogens, disease management and diagnostics to perform the early steps in the seed potato production process and to oversee overall testing and certification for the program.

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“This new public-private partnership capitalizes on the strengths of both partners,” says Amanda Gevens, Professor and Extension Specialist in the plant pathology department and the current administrative director of the certification program.

The cooperative certification program between DATCP and UW requires the university to certify seed potatoes based on their cleanliness and varietal type. Scientists in the Department of Plant Pathology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences oversee the program and ensure an adequate supply of high-quality seed potatoes for Wisconsin’s $350 million potato industry.

The WPC will contract with seed potato customers each winter to determine the quantity and varieties of seed potatoes to cultivate at Starks Farm. They will then plant, raise, harvest and store the certified seed potatoes. Scientists and the coalition members will continue to partner on research at the farm, and the university will continue to manage the onsite greenhouses, including production of minitubers.

The 1,000-acre Starks Farm includes roughly 400 tillable acres surrounding a 40-acre spring fed lake. It is a good location for seed potato production owing to the presence of fertile sandy loam soil, isolation from adjacent potato farms, and exposure to harsh winter temperatures which kill many plant pathogens. Approximately 100 acres of potato are grown in rotation each year.

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